L I B R.A R_Y OF THE U N IVLRSITY Of ILLINOIS 823 Mi"84* v. 3 Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2009 with funding from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign http://www.archive.org/details/sackclothbroadcl03midd SACKCLOTH AND BROADCLOTH. A NOVEL. BY JEAN MIDDLEMASS, AUTHOR OF 'WILD GEORGIE, 'SEALED BY A KISS, ' INNOCENCE AT PLAY, ETC., ETC. IN THREE VOLUMES. VOL. III. TINSLEY BROTHERS, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND, LONDON. i 88 i. \_All Rights reservtd.'] COLSTON AND SON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH. Sackcloth and Broadcloth CHAPTER I. ON THE RIVIERA. And drags at each remove a lengthening chain.' UCH, allegorically, was Claire Bailey's state, as, after accom- panying her mother from place to place on the continent, they finally settled down for a while at Mentone, the last station on that renowned line of outworks against 'Pallida Mors,' known as the Riviera. Claire's father had died at an early age from consumption ; this Lady Laura bore ever in mind as she watched through the different stages of her child's depression, and VOL. III. a Sackcloth and Broadcloth. noted the ravages sorrow was making on her fresh young face. That Claire was fretting incessantly there was little doubt, the more so, perhaps, because she but rarely alluded to the cause of her distress ; and it will easily be conceived that, if the child was suffering acutely, the mother suffered even more; also, that by far the deepest throes these two unselfish natures were enduring, were caused by the silent but only too apparent sorrow of each other. Had Lady Laura been a father or a brother, she would pro- bably have railed furiously against Matthew, perhaps even, as actually happened in a celebrated instance not many years ago, might she have driven up to his paternal seat in a four-in-hand, surrounded by influ- ential friends, and demanded, in tones as stern as they were courteous, explanation and satisfaction. But patient, refined, high- minded Lady Laura was only a woman ; what On the Riviera. could she do in her anguish, her just anger, her despair, but live on, pray, and be patient. Letters from home came but seldom, and when they did come, the tidings they brought were scarcely inspiriting. Matthew had written more than once, but Lady Laura noted the flush on Claire's face as she opened his missives, and how it became overcast as she finished reading them, and she felt seriously inclined to for- bid the correspondence, only perhaps she was a little afraid of what effect another violent and sudden wrench might have on her child. It was a strange whim, which, possessing itself of Matthew's mind at this time, made him write pages on pages about Lady Valentina to Claire, while to the former he had never once spoken of his little self-exiled love. Perhaps when Claire left England she still retained a lingering hope that all was not positively and for ever at an end between her and Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Matthew ; but now the image of the stately Valentina, as he describes her, with her queenly beauty, her composure and her sterling sense, helping him through all the difficult bits of life, seems ever to stand conspicuously between them. And as she pictures her rival, the last faint scintilla of hope dies out of Claire's heart. That Matthew deserves censure for Claire's sufferings there is little doubt ; still he is not as much to blame as Lady Laura supposes. Although Valentina, with her fascination of manner ; fascinating, that is, to Matthew — since she possesses the very strength of will in which he himself is wanting — has come between them, yet he has never entirely with- drawn his allegiance to Claire. He considers himself as much bound to her now as on the day when, mounted on Prig, he led her across the meadow to Swanover, and asked her mother's consent to their union. He is On the Riviera. merely doing as many another man has done before him — he is playing with two hearts. Whether honour will win or lose in the struggle remains to be proved, the issue depending on a great extent on how much sincere honest loyalty Matthew's developing character will evince. In extenuation, too, of his seemingly heartless conduct, be it re- membered he has no idea of the amount of pain Claire is enduring. She had herself suggested a cancelling of their engagement. She had gone abroad without even telling him of her intention ; for all he knew she was enjoying herself excessively, for her letters, ever uncomplaining, were always kind and cheerful. Had any mutual friend hinted to Matthew that pretty Claire, down on the Riviera, was fretting her life away, on his account, the human kindness with which his nature abounded, if no stronger feeling, would have taken him at once to Mentone to learn the truth for himself. But no word Sackcloth and Broadcloth. came to him save from her own pen, so, con- demning her a little in his heart for cold- ness and want of regard for his feelings, he dawdled by Lady Valentina's side, and left the affair with Claire to ripen or die out, according as the time and place of their next meeting should influence the atmosphere of their hearts. Meanwhile everything that could be done to distract her mind was put into practice by her anxious mother, even at the risk of burdening her conscience and of shocking Mr Lently, should he happen to learn what was passing, for Claire had been taken to pass a few fleeting hours watching the play at Monte Carlo. Even that haunt of tem- pestuous pleasure, with its eager uproarious throng, failed however to afford her excite- ment. She wandered about the 'gilded halls,' and felt a little heartsick at the pictures of life there represented ; she would ask her On the Riviera. mother not to bring her again — she thought surely it were better to be moped and sad than to take part in such a scene as that. Then she turned to the window and stood leaning against it, gazing dreamily on fair nature as she lay around clad in loveliest sheen, as though striving, by her beauty, to lure away the crowd within the rooms from the fascinations of her powerful rival — the green table. Had they all been of Claire's mind the feat had not been difficult, but ' Messieurs faites voire jeu] ' Le jeu est fait' ' Rien ne va plus', 'Sept', l Noir' ' Im- paire et impasse] went on incessantly around her as she stood and looked into the world beyond ; while Lady Laura, half amused, half saddened by the scene, was loitering a few yards off. ' Miss Bailey ! ' exclaimed a voice close to Claire, as though in a tone of wonder at her presence there. She turned instantly, then held out her Sackcloth and Broadcloth. hand to a young man, who had more than once been her partner at dances in the neighbourhood of Swanover. ' You here ? I had no idea,' he almost stammered. Claire coloured up ; his words seemed to imply a reproach, while in reality he was vexed at being himself caught following to its fullest bent the pleasures offered by the goddess Play Young Leverton had a great respect for the Baileys, and he scarcely wanted them to know that he had lost large sums that he could ill afford, which they evitably would do from some of the chatterers at Monte Carlo. Claire's answer somewhat reassured him, however. ' We have only come over from Mentone for an hour or two. I have been ill, and mamma thought the place would amuse me, but it does not.' 1 Doesn't amuse you ? How odd ! Why, On the Riviera, this room represents life in more varied phases than any other in Europe.' ' Very likely ; but to look at the people here makes me, oh, so miserable ! I hope you have not come to play, Mr Leverton ? ' ' I only arrived about four days ago,' he answered, falling back once again into stammering. ' I was at home this day last week.' ' Tell me, how is everything looking round about Swanover ? Ravensholme, and all the poor people, I wonder how they are ? ' Yes, Claire's heart was at Swanover, and Lady Laura, who from where she was standing heard this conversation, began to think so. Mr Leverton was scarcely the sort of man to be able to give her a detailed account of the ailments and requirements of all the Ravensholme cottagers. He tried, however, as well as he could, to furnish her with some home news. i o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 The Desboroughs have come back from London/ Ah, yes ; the mention of that name did interest Claire, for her colour heightened as he spoke. 1 Lord Beaurepaire and his daughter have accompanied them,' he went on. ' I have met Lady Valentina driving about with Mrs Desborough once or twice ; such a beautiful, distinguished - looking girl. . Do you know her, Miss Bailey ? ' An almost inarticulate 'No' fell from Claire's white lips. 1 Oh, you will admire her so much, and every one says she is as nice as she is handsome. I am quite in love with her ; but it is no use, for I am afraid some one else is in the field before me. Some one you know too, Miss Bailey.' Claire did not speak, and Lady Laura did not come to the rescue, because, never having heard anything about Matthew's friendship On the Riviera. 1 1 with Lady Valentina, she did not note the danger signals, or guess what trouble these careless remarks were bringing to her child. Young Leverton went on ; he was only too glad to find what he supposed to be a neutral topic for conversation, so as to keep off any allusion to gambling. ' Of course the Desboroughs would like the match, they are so terribly addicted to swells — at least Mrs Desborough is, and everybody about seems to regard it as a settled thing.' Fortunately this last speech was too much to the point for Lady Laura any longer to mistake Mr Leverton's meaning. She held out her hand to the young man, who had not noticed her standing partly concealed by a curtain as she did. ' How do you do, Mr Leverton ? Full of gossip from the home county ? I am glad to hear of old friends, but I think at this moment I am more especially anxious for 1 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. some descriptive account of the new faces by which we are surrounded. This room is a book that sorely wants an index. Can you supply it ? ' Now Mr Leverton was one of those men who hate to be supposed not to know every- thing and everybody who either legitimately or illegitimately has made any mark in the world. Of course he knew the biographies and genealogies of at least half of the there assembled crowd, and he began forthwith to tell her how the fat pompous man over there was a general, who had married beneath him that pretty-looking woman without one ■ h ' in her whole vocabulary ; then he proceeded to relate how M — was the lover of Madame ; how the wife of Sir Lewis J — had come there with the husband of Lady C — , till Lady Laura would fain have closed her ears against the horrible tale of fashionable depravity, and at any other time would have silenced him with authority, only On the Riviera. anything was better than the discussion of Matthew Desborough and English news. Finding therefore a pleased ready listener as he thought in Lady Laura, whom till that moment Mr Leverton had believed to be a little strait-laced, he drew such a vivid sketch of Monaco life and manners that the mother, ever thinking of her child, looked round to see what effect this initia- tion into the details of fast ways and habits might have on her ; but Claire was men- tally far away in a dreamland of her own, where Matthew, not Mr Leverton, was playing the prominent part. She scarcely heard that he was speaking, much less did she take in the subject of his discourse. She did not heed him, or would have shown her disapproval, for nothing could be more repulsive to Claire's mind than a mfnute, almost eulogistic description of the lax con- dition of public morals, as it existed in the atmosphere around. To Lady Laura the 1 4 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. account was nauseating in its effect ; though she condemned gambling as a vice, she was little prepared to acknowledge the deep sub- stratum of iniquity which lay beneath the seemingly decent manners of the assembled throng. If only half Mr Leverton's account were true, this was scarcely a scene into which she ought to have conducted a pure" English girl, even with the strong incen- tive that Lady Laura had, and she felt almost inclined to make a formal excuse to Mr Leverton for her daughter's presence. But discretion overcame the desire to speak, especially as when she looked round and saw more than one girl walking about the rooms whose social position was quite the equal of Claire's. Alas for the laxity of an age in which the moral tone has so much degenerated ! Lady Laura waited for a pause in the young man's scandalous reminiscences, then she touched Claire gently on the arm. On the Riviera. 1 5 4 We must go, my child, or we shall scarcely eet back to Mentone in time for dinner. If those dull quarters have any attraction for you, Mr Leverton, we shall be delighted to see you. I do not think we shall return here.' This was all gentle Lady Laura said in disapprobation. A better example was set by action than by speech, she was wont to aver. And they bade Mr Leverton good- bye, and wandered through the gardens, making rather a circuit to reach the carriage in which they had driven from Mentone. 'A foolish babbling boy,' was Lady Lauras stricture on Leverton, as she walked beside Claire, ' he has told me stories about half the people in the room — he knows far too much to be accurate in his knowledge ; in fact, God grant he may not be so.' Claire did not answer, the only gossip she had heard from Mr Leverton had Matthew's letters to verify it ; thus, how could she t 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. flatter herself that it was untrue ? Had he not written pages about Lady Valentina ? What then more likely than, now that he had a large fortune to offer, he should make this great lady his wife. Poor little Claire was very humble about her own attributes, and she was quite ready to believe that she was very inferior in every way to Lady Valen= tina. It was only natural, she thought, that Matthew should be impressed by this great beauty, since every one agreed she was so handsome and so good and nice ; but still it was very very hard to bear, and the thought of her rival made her very unhappy, notwithstanding the excuse of perfection with which Claire tried to invest her. All the way back to Mentone Claire was quite silent, and Lady Laura wished they had never eone to Monte Carlo, or at all events o had not met Mr Leverton there. Arrived at the hotel, there was a letter from Matthew 7 lying on the table. It contained only a few, On the Riviera. 17 a very few lines, simply stating the fact that he was going home shortly to Vantage. His reasons for throwing up his work so abruptly he did not give her ; it would not have occurred to Matthew to treat Claire to the long dissertations about Wharton's philo- sophy he had inflicted on Valentina. What, then, could she suppose but that he was going to Vantage solely for Valentina's sake, and with an ' Ah! ' that to Lady Laura's quick ear was pregnant with meaning, she thrust the letter into her pocket and walked away to change her dress for dinner. VOL. III. CHAPTER II. PAIRING. ,T was the first spring day. The party from Montarlis Castle had driven over to luncheon at Vant- age, where of course they met the never- failing Mr Sivewright. It is not to be supposed that Mrs Des- borough, because she occasionally assembled her friends round her, grieved for and talked of her son George any the less ; quite the contrary, only hers was not the sort of nature that could pine in solitude. No, her sorrow required an audience to stimulate it ; but about all things Mrs Desborough, in society's world and in the private recesses Pairing. \ 9 of her own apartment, was a very different individual. After luncheon a walk had been sucrg-ested by Violet, and seconded by Lord Beaure- paire. No one else seemed particularly inclined to sally forth, till it occurred to Lady Valentina that it were as well per- haps that she should accompany them, in order to chaperone her father, and then Mr Sivewright offered to make one of the party. So they sallied forth, leaving Mrs Desborough to pour her sorrows into the duchess's sympathetic ear, while the squire dawdled through the afternoon by himself in his own room, where, however, his studies made by no means the valuable progress they used to do before the death of his elder son. For hours he would sit among his papers without looking at them, his thoughts far away. He was fretting out his heart in solitude, and yet his wife invariably gave him credit for caring more for his fusty 20 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. researches than for the passing away of a whole line of Desboroughs. How apt are quiet undemonstrative natures to be wholly misunderstood ! An opportunity to begin a conversation with Mr Sivewright about Matthew was just what Lady Valentina had been seeking for the last two days. During this walk surely an auspicious moment would offer itself, and so it did, for Mr Sivewright was almost as anxious to sound Lady Valentina on the subject of her feelings for Matthew as the young lady was to extract from him his opinions anent Matthew's longer residence in the Whartonian household. As far as playing chaperone to Lord Beaurepaire went, Lady Valentina soon dis- covered that she might as well have re- mained indoors ; he and Mrs Tremayne paired off forthwith, walking a great deal faster than would have suited the style of the queenly Valentina, who was thus left Pairing. 2 1 nolens volens in the charge of the Rev. Lawrence, in whom she had a far more ardent admirer than she in the very least suspected. She knew that Mr Sivewright was the mundane friend as well as the spiritual director of both the duchess and Mrs Desborough, and that when those ladies were together it was with some difficulty that he contrived to divide his attention so equally as to give dissatisfaction to neither. She also knew that Mr Sivewright objected strongly to Mrs Tremayne. For this very reason, perhaps, she herself had first con- ceived a regard for him ; but what she did not know was, that the Vicar of Fern- wood-cum-Grasdale had more than once thought that to render that same vicarage quite Utopian, was wanting the presence of such a superb aristocratic beauty as was the Lady Valentina. True, for many years Mr Sivewright had deemed that it would be ill in accordance with his highly philo- 2 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. sophical tendencies to shackle their freedom by putting his neck into the matrimonial noose ; but the acquaintance he had lately formed with Lady Valentina had made him to a great extent forego his ideas on the subject. Only there was Matthew ; he was not quite sure about the reciprocal feelings of these two young people, and the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright was keenly alive to the fact that his entering the lists as the rival of Matthew Desborough would be essentially ridiculous. It was not because he believed his chance of success to be in- ferior to Matthew's that he took this view of the case, but simply because he thought a passage at arms between him and this boy would be absurd. They sauntered on slowly together for some time, talking pleasantly and intellectu- ally. Mr Sivewright, be it observed, was partial to the society of intellectual women, the duchess, perhaps, being the only one Pairing. 2 3 of his ' very dear friends ' in whom physical attractions were the sole fascination. Lady Valentina was not clever in the strict sense of the word ; her brain was incapable of producing a single original idea ; but she was well read, and remembering what she had read, was always prepared to reproduce it at the right moment. Thus she presented a very good imitation of a blue stocking ; moreover, she never condescended to talk nonsense. At last, when they had passed the vicar- age house, gone across the glebe, through a wood there was to the left, walked about two miles in fact, always keeping Lord Beaurepaire and Mrs Tremayne more or less in view, Lady Valentina began the subject she had been seeking to introduce ever since they started from Vantage. It came up quite naturally at this juncture. They had been discussing the political posi- tion of Europe, and had somehow strayed 24 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. into a conversation on its relations with pro- phecy, of which Lady Valentina had been reading in some recently published pamphlet. It was a relation which Mr Sivewright scouted, and he refuted the argument ad- duced with so much energy and cleverness, that Lady Valentina exclaimed, — 1 How charming it is to hear you talk ! So strange that in London I do not know a single clergyman intimately, so have no one to put me right in matters of difficulty. I often do wish I had some master-mind to consult.' The Rev. Lawrence smiled benignly; per- haps he took this speech of Valentina's for encouragement. She went on, — ' I have had it in my head for the last two days to ask you about something, Mr Sivewright. I wonder if you would mind ? ' 1 In anything that I can be of service to you, Lady Valentina, pray command me- al ways.' Pairing. ' It is a matter of conscience/ she said, looking rather shy and speaking very low, as she proceeded to state her case to the divine whose opinion she craved, while Mr Sivewright looked consciously grateful for the choice which had fallen on him. Although no confessor by name or practice, nothing afforded him more gratification than to be selected as the confidential possessor of the catalogue raisonnd of a woman's shortcomings. 1 Say on, dear lady, and be assured of my secrecy and discretion.' 'Well, you know, Mr Sivewright, I have been brought up from babyhood in good old-fashioned Church of England principles. Ritualism perplexes me, while Heterodoxy, as it presents itself in the so-called philosophical opinions of the day, seems so contrary to everything one has been taught to believe, that it quite frightens me.' 'Why go out of the good old-established 2 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. path to investigate either creed ? ' asked Mr Sivewright, while he looked just a little bit disappointed. Probably he had expected a different confession. 1 One cannot always close one's ears to every call,' answered Lady Valentina, ' espe- cially when the voice that asks counsel of you is that of a friend.' 1 No, truly. But unless I know the precise facts of the case, I cannot give an opinion.' * Confidentially, then, it is about Matthew Desborough I want to speak to you,' and Lady Valentina blushed, while Mr Sivewright — but no, he did not change countenance, he only looked as though he would fain read her through and through. Matthew Desborough ! when would Mat- thew Desborough's affairs cease to be the main topic of discussion among his friends, he wondered ; but he concealed from Lady Valentina the knowledge that this subject had begun to bore him. Pairing. 2 7 1 Poor Matthew ! ' he said, after a second's pause. ' Has he been getting into fresh difficulties. I am afraid he is of too sensi- tive a nature to make much way against the troubles and temptations of life.' 1 That is just it. Matthew is scrupulous and conscientious to a fault — not that I think it a fault — there must be something so grand, so honest, so saint-like in a character that is in constant fear of acting disloyally both to God and man ; but knowing as we do what Matthew feels about all these things, don't you think we ought to help him as much as we can out of difficulties, instead of urging him into them ? ' ' Who has been urging him into diffi- culties ? ' 1 I am afraid you and I are not exempt.' 1 How so?' 4 Well, you know, Mr Sivewright, that since poor George Desborough's death Matthew has been a great deal with us, 2 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. and both my father and I take the very live- liest interest in him — in fact one cannot help doing so, he is so very amiable and con- fiding. I think, too, he sets some store on our — that is, on my opinion.' Mr Sivewright smiled, but did not speak, but he thought he saw Lady Valentina rapidly disappearing from the imaginary place she had held for a brief space in Fernwood Vicarage. She went on, — 'A short time ago I advised Matthew to return to Mr Wharton's for a few months, so as to fit himself by study and argument the better to hold his position in life. I have, however, since had cause to waver in my judgment.' ' And your reasons are ? ' 1 That I don't believe Mr Wharton to be a Christian.' ' Ah ! What has that to do with Matthew's secular studies ? ' 1 Mr Sivewright, I am surprised. I thought Pairing. 29 that you, as a clergyman, would be shocked and horrified.' The Rev. Lawrence scarcely liked to feel that he had lost way with Lady Valentina, so he shifted his ground somewhat, and said rather sternly for him, — 1 Lady Valentina, I may speak to you, candidly may I not, as to a woman possess- ing much common sense ? ' She bowed her head and accepted the compliment. 1 There has been far too much talk and fuss made over Matthew. He has been coddled and all his fancies listened to, till he has become a mental malade imaginaire. Why on earth should he not rough it with other young men ? Now that he is heir of Vantage, the question of orders is, I pre- sume, set at rest for ever. Let him go 'then where he can learn the greatest amount about life in the shortest possible time. Books will not teach him the things he Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ought to know, or transform him from a sick hermit into a hale squire.' * You are rather severe, Mr Sivewright,' she remarked, for no one perhaps had ever heard so much acerbity in the Rev. Lawrence's tones before. ' The case merits it/ he answered ; 'they are the truest friends to Matthew who do not pamper him.' Pamper him ! had she been pampering him, she wondered, and they walked along for some little distance together without speaking ; each was holding a mirror in order to reflect feeling, both rather unsuc- cessfully, as feelings seldom allow themselves to be clearly and distinctly reflected. When next they spoke, the subject of Matthew, which evidently irritated Mr Sivewright as much as a man of his placid temperament could be irritated, was waived, and he said in his usual bland unctuous voice, — ' A lovely bit of landscape just here ; it is Pairing. 3 1 worthy of Constable. I hope you appreci- ate the art that represents nature faithfully, Lady Valentina ? ' She did not paint herself, but was an ardent admirer of fine pictures, had been in many of the great continental galleries, and so they fell to discussing the varied features of the several European schools, Mr Sive- wright interesting as well as surprising Lady Valentina not a little by his knowledge and remarks, during which Matthew's fierce struggles with life were alike forgotten by them both, till at last this discussion was interrupted by their coming abruptly on the other couple, who, not knowing the country as well as Mr Sivewright did, had followed a path which they supposed would take them back to Vantage, but which had circuitously led them back to its commencement. It mattered but little whether a conversa- tion on art were continued or arrested, it could be resumed at any moment; but the Sackcloth and Broadcloth. topic Lord Beaurepaire and the pretty widow- had been discussing was evidently of a much more delicate nature. The old earl looked earnest and devoted, while on Violet's face there was a deep flush. She sprang towards Lady Valentina when she saw her, thereby disengaging her hand from that of Lord Beaurepaire, and hoping that the little manoeuvre might pass unperceived. She looked at Mr Sivewright : by the cynical curl of his lip she knew that nothing had escaped him. Had the duchess gained his silence. That was all she hoped ? ' We have been wondering where you had strolled to, Mrs Tremayne ? We scarcely expected to find our lost Pearl at this corner.' A paleness, as of death, spread itself over Violet's face, so much so that Lady Valen- tina, though disliking her most intensely, yet felt her womanly kindness aroused as she looked at her, for she said with less hauteur Pairing. 3 3 than she usually displayed when addressing Mrs Tremayne. 1 You seem tired. Shall we sit on the trunk of this old tree for a few minutes ? The air is so balmy we can scarcely take cold.' A very few minutes' rest, and the gentle- men suggested that a chill might come if they stayed longer, and having delegated to Mr Sivewright the office of pioneer, the little party set off for Vantage by a short route. The pairing, however, for that day was at an end. Lady Valentina and Mrs Tre- mayne walked together, the two men a few paces in front. Either Violet did not care to trust the Rev. Lawrence alone with Lady Valentina after what he had just said, or she was a little ashamed of the very flagrant flirtation in which she had been surprised, for she remained close to Lady Valentina's side, making herself so agreeable and fas- cinating all the while, that by the time they vol. in. c 34 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. had reached Vantage Lady Valentina had almost forgotten her prejudices against Mrs Tremayne. True, she was a little preoccu- pied about her own affairs. Her conversa- tion with Mr Sivewright, as far as Matthew was concerned, had proved unsuccessful ; she must advise on her own responsibility, and when she went to her room to rest for an hour before dinner, she employed her time in writing a long letter to Matthew, which, though it was kind and full of sense, yet was scarcely as practical as Lady Valen- tina's opinions usually were. The fact being that she was almost as perplexed- on this matter as was Matthew himself. In a few days perhaps a light would break in order to show them which way they should walk, she hoped ; that is if she watched for it, which she was fully resolved to do. Then she sat looking at the letter as it lay sealed ready for the letter-bag in front of her. ' Why trust to the result of a few days Pairing. 35 waiting and the light that might never come,' was the next bit of true womanly reason- ing, so she opened the letter, not to read it, but in order to add a postscript. 1 Surely a little country air would do you good ? Why do you not come home for a time and discuss the matter with your own people ? ' Was this suggestion of Lady Valentina's made in all good faith, or was it not rather the result of an almost unacknowledged crav- ing to see Matthew once again ? Even in strong natures like Lady Valentina's, how impossible it is at all times to analyse the heart's emotions. CHAPTER III. LOVE TURNED TO HATE. EVOTION of my life— radiant star of my old age — if Valentina were only married.' Muttering these fragments to himself, Mr John Varley, alias Cheap Jack, walks slowly along the road till he reaches the gate lead- ing into the Fernwood glebe, through which he had passed with Mr Sivewright about ten days ago. He perches himself on the top bar, and his elbows on his knees, his head on his hands, he betakes himself to thinking. He has not selected the most comfortable of seats ; but then the fact of his early habits having been acrobatic perhaps accounts for Love turned to Hate. his indifference on the subject. The yellow ' shay ' and the infinitesimal tiger are in the courtyard of the Hurton Commercial Inn ; they have been there for days, while Varley himself, entirely neglecting the pursuit of his calling, wanders in a desultory manner about the country in the hope of meeting the lost Pearl he has refound in such a strange setting. Poor Jack ! the dream of his life had been to find this girl again, but while his position in the world naturally threw him into the society of rough coarse companions, whose coarseness and roughness from very use he failed to remark, still among them an in- stinctive reticence forbade the mention of Pearl, and kept concealed from vulgar gaze the latent poetry of his nature, of which not one of Cheap Jack's associates would for a moment have guessed the existence. He had spoken truly when he told Violet that he would rather not have refound his Pearl than have found her where he did. 38 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. The gorgeous gems of society by which she was surrounded, if they were not envied by Cheap Jack for their lustre, were hated because they shed a portion of it over his more modest jewel, raising her almost to an equal place with themselves in the dazzling bouquet of precious stones. He hated the Duke and Duchess of Montarlis, the Des- boroughs of Vantage, for robbing him of his treasure ; above all, he hated that courteous grand old peer whom he had heard pour- ing burning loving words into Violet's ear as he was loitering about the Vantage woods, in the hope perchance of seeing her again. As Jack Varley, in his blouse and velvet cap, sat doubled up on the top bar of the gate, he was a comic picture ; still the feelings that raged within the somewhat ludicrous exterior, savoured more of tragedy than comedy. Strong passions had been aroused, passions which had probably been lying dormant in Love turned to Hate, 39 Jack Varley's heart for years ; love had, as in a flash, been matured to its full strength, to be over-ruled only by a more intense emotion — jealousy — and we know i One master passion in the breast Like Aaron's serpent swallows up the rest' The basket maker's impetuous son had had but little education — least of all, had he been taught the great lesson of self-control ; more or less contact with the world had instructed him to keep his feelings in subjection, and, as far as trifling matters went, the lessons re- ceived later in life had proved satisfactory ; but now that a crushing mass of strong feel- ing had overtaken him, he cast all his small stock of tuition to the winds, and gave himself up entirely to be led wherever the raging bitterness of his feelings pleased to direct. Could Violet have seen him, as he sat there on the gate, she might have quailed before the aspect of the man she flattered herself would obey any word or wish of hers, 40 Sackcloth and. Broadcloth. however faintly expressed. If she were in- deed his, his Pearl, the one gem in that tinselled life-diadem, which was all fate had bestowed on him, she might have held such sway ; but to see her fair beauty deck the coronet of that 'oily-mouthed aristocrat' — no. He would never be her slave unless he was her master too. That was the determination at which Jack Varley arrived while he sat brooding on the top of the parsonage gate. At last he jumped off his perch and stood leaning against the post. Shielding his eyes with his hand, he looked up and down the road. Glimmering twilight was overtaking the sunny beauty of the short day. He could see nothing, hear nothing. 1 Yet they must pass along this way to Montarlis,' was his muttered remark. He was waiting for Pearl. His better genius prompted him to walk with rapid strides to Hurton, start off with his 'shay' and his ti^er at dawn on a lonor commercial Love turned to Hate. 4 1 circuit in the adjacent counties, and be heard of in the neighbourhood of Montarlis no more — at least not for many months ; but the prompting was silenced angrily, and Jack Varley stood on in the gathering darkness, waiting till the Montarlis carriage should pass by that way. At last his patience was rewarded, if reward it were to endure the heart agony which overcame him as the ducal equipage stopped not ten yards from where he stood unseen in the gloom which had by this time deepened into night. He moved away from the post against which he had been leaning, and dropped back so as to be sheltered by the adjoining hedge. Mr Sivewright having been driven thus far on his way, got out of the carriage, and bade the two ladies ' Good evening.' 1 Don't forget to-morrow ; dinner at a quarter to eight. We shall be quite a delightful party. I am so glad the Beaure- paires have persuaded dear Mrs Desborough 42 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. to accompany them ; moping will do her no good, and of course we shall ask no one but our own little set.' ' So kind of you, duchess, so considerate,' and Mr Sivewright lifted his hat as he turned to pass into his own domain. 1 Good-bye, Mr Sivewright. I hope the spring flowers you gathered in the wood to-day will shed their fragrance over your study to-night.' The duchess laid her hand on Mrs Tre- mayne's, as though imploring her to be silent ; while the vicar said archly, — ' The wood violets are scarcely yet in bloom ; that floweret still wants hot-house forcing.' ' I assure you I found a handful,' she cried gaily, as the carriage drove off. She felt so sure of Lord Beaurepaire that she thought she could afford to bandy words with the vicar, than which nothing amused her more, because, knowing herself to be an expert, Love turned to Hate. 43 there was a charm in a skirmish with one who usually contrived that she should come off second best in the tussle. Mr Sivewright opened the gate and passed into the field beyond. For a moment he thought he heard some one moving, and stopped to listen, but deciding that the sound existed solely in his imagination, he went on towards the house. During that moment Cheap Jack had felt half inclined to detain the vicar, and once more make him his confidant ; but the idea that ' his reverence ' would only, as he was in duty bound, try to make things square, prevented him, and he remained quietly hiding in the hedge till the vicar's footfalls had quite died away in the distance. Then he crept slowly forth and took the road for Hurton, walking rather as a man who has no purpose in life, than the active, business- like trader he had been but a short time since. 44 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. There was nothing Varley could have told Mr Sivewright that he did not already know. He had felt thoroughly convinced of Violet Tremayne's identity with Pearl long before the knowledge had dawned upon her old adorer. Up to this time the vicar, except by occasional stray shots at the lady her- self, had kept his convictions to himselfr He did not consider it was exactly befitting a man of his dignity to seek to untie the many knots in which society loved to tangle itself, unless, indeed, one of gordian pro- portions should be presented to him. He made it his practice, however, on all occa- sions to be au courant with every detail in the lives of those with whom he came in daily contact, reserving the right of conduct- ing the private affairs of his congregation and their relations, whenever circumstances induced him to consider that his assistance would tend to his own importance or ad- vantage. No greater autocrat than this Love turned to Hate. 45 * moral teacher/ who abjured the title of priest. When he reached his luxurious study, in which a wood fire was burning brightly, and over which a shaded reading lamp was shed- ding its subdued light, he sat down in his arm-chair and stretched himself as he looked round. Opposite to him was a vacant chair. For a moment he thought how well Lady Valentina would fill it ; then followed a dread of woman's invasion among the Lares and Penates which had grown dear to the bachelor's heart ; and Mr Sivewright smiled complacently to himself as the little drama, .in which Matthew, Claire Bailey, Lady Valen- tina, and all the other dramatis personce took part, seemed to be enacted before his eyes. Only when his mind's eye fell on Violet Tremayne his brow darkened. To Mr Sivewright, who believed thoroughly in the fitness of things, it seemed quite out of keeping that she should marry Lord Beau- 46 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. repaire ; though with the justness on which, even as though he had been a judge, he prided himself, he would certainly have de- creed that it would be equally incongruous for her to give up the position she had made for herself in society, and throw in her fortunes with those of Cheap Jack Varley. The itinerant hawker was right in his con- jectures that a conversation with his rever- ence would not help matters. 1 He'd only try to salve him over with fine words, so as to keep him quiet ; ' and as he wended his way towards Hurton, the feelings raging in his heart grew more and more bitter, and Mrs Tremayne, if she did not play her cards carefully and cleverly, ran a chance of being worsted in the game of life by her old acquaintance and playmate. Love turned to hate. What so dangerous for a woman, especially when the change occurs in a heart unaccustomed to submit to control. Violet, meanwhile, was gushingly relating Love ttirned to Hate. 47 to the duchess, as they drove to Montarlis, how Lord Beaurepaire had nearly come ' to the scratch,' as she slangily called it ; and how that tiresome vicar invariably put his head into her path at the ' very most in- convenient moments.' The duchess lay back in her corner of the carriage, and smiled at the relation. She never tried to stop the hardihood of Violet's talk when they were alone ; perhaps hoping that by letting her have her free scope in private, she would be more amenable to reason when listeners were present. 1 But old Sivewright didn't sneer or look odious.' She finished her account bystating, — 1 I suppose you have been speaking to him, Julia ? ' 1 No, indeed, I have not. To say truly, I have not had the courage. I began the sub- ject the other evening while you were singing to the duke, but he either did not, or would not, see that the confidence — confession, if 48 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. you like — was a grave one. Perhaps he thought the occasion unfitting ; none has arisen since.' 1 Then, for goodness' sake make one. Send for him to-morrow morning. Endless mischief may happen if you defer it.' ' But what can I say ? What excuse can I make ? ' ' Let me see. Flowers — that is such a sweetly innocent subject. I am sure those camellias in the conservatory look most sickly, and Perkins does not understand them one bit. Mr Sivewright, you know, is a horticulturist of the first order.' ' Oh, Violet, there is nothing the matter with the camellias.' ' But there shall be by the morning.' ' Oh, pray don't tamper with the flowers ; the duke will be so angry.' 1 To avert his anger, Mr Sivewright must be sent for to resuscitate the poor faded darlings,' and Violet laughed heartily. Love turned to Hate. 49 To her crooked nature this little subterfuge and plot gave much greater satisfaction than any straightforward action would have done. The duchess, however, was by no means so happy at the idea. Of a placid tempera- ment, she loved repose ; scheming was her particular aversion. If this marriage of Violet's with Lord Beaurepaire would only enable her to float lazily along the stream of life, how grateful would she be ! Violet, with her incessant demands for service, and her threats, was an incubus under the weight of which the poor duchess laboured painfully. 1 I suppose you must do as you like,' she said, in a tragically resigned tone, which, however, only had the effect of evoking a peal of merry laughter from her companion. ' You poor dear old frightened Julia, only one little effort more, and we will both sail along the world's bubbling stream in such safe barges that our most determined foes will find it difficult to upset us.' VOL. III. d 5<D Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 'Ah!' The duchess had evidently less belief in the future than had her sanguine friend, and she felt in no mood for gushing over prospective happiness. 4 If Violet were only dead,' was her secret wish. But a bete noire never dies, and this per- haps the duchess thought as she looked out of the carriage window into the darkness, and declined entirely to reciprocate the affec- tionate embrace with which Mrs Tremayne's last words had been accompanied. A few minutes more and they drove up to the great door at Montarlis. Violet sprang out. ' I must stretch myself. I am cramped to death by sitting so long/ and instead of going into the house, she disappeared down a side walk leading to the gardens. No one took any notice. The servants were used to her unconventional ways, and Love turned to Hate. 5 r the duchess was powerless to stop her, though there was a very preoccupied look in her face as she went to find the duke and give him an account of her adventures, as she was wont to do after an absence of a few hours. 1 What will he say when he is informed in the morning, that all the camellias are dying, and why cannot Mr Sivewright be brought to Montarlis without this tiresome plot ?' Why, indeed, but because Violet enjoys the fun of it, and never thinks of following a direct route when an indirect one is in the least likely to produce an adventure. The duke's indignation with Perkins, Mr Sivewright's suggestions, the duchess's anxiety of countenance, will all contribute to Violet's amusement, and amusement she must have. Even with so important an issue as the happiness of her future life at stake, she cannot forego her passion for gratifying a love of frolic at the expense of the feelings of other people. LIBRARY UNIVERSITY nc ftn*"Vf CHAPTER IV. THE EAVES OF SWANOVER HE parti carrd at Vantage Park are dawdling over the ten o'clock breakfast ; Lord Beaurepaire and Mr Desborough having entangled themselves, and even the ladies, in rather a warm discus- sion, the subject being the relative positions of the Vicars of Fernwood and Ravensholme. From his charm of manner and scholarly attainments, Mr Sivewright, as a man, carries off the palm with Lord Beaurepaire, as he does with every one ; but the earl's old- fashioned religious prejudices have mean- time been shocked by some of Mr Sive- wright's very broad tenets. Neither Lord The Eaves of Swanover. 53 Beaurepaire nor his daughter had by any degree reached the climax of excitement to which religious inquiry — in these days when every one is determined to sift out truth for himself — had led many of their intimates. Yet during the last few weeks they had both of them more or less joined in the quest. Matthew had been the first to awaken Valen- tina's mind to the fact that there were many points to be considered and weighed, which had never entered into the humdrum prosaic routine of her steady-going, high and dry belief. Perhaps, too, the zealous youth who had come to them as a sort of messenger from another realm had, to a certain degree, in- noculated Lord Beaurepaire with some of his opinions ; for if Matthew had scarcely enough weight to convert the old peer to his views, he had at all events set both him and his daughter thinking, a process which life at Vantage by no means stinted in its growth. Daily did they hear the opinions and doings 54 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. of the two adjacent clergymen discussed, as it befell, too, in the Vantage household, without wrath. The squire was a gentle Christian- tempered man, who never reviled his neigh- bour, but always sought to sift the wheat from the tares in every character. Mr Lently's exaggeration in matters of detail he regarded as the unhappy consequence of over zeal. Truth being told, perhaps the squire inclined more to Lently than to Sive- wright ; but Fernwood was his parish church, and as a landowner and county magistrate, he did not think he should be justified in forsaking it. If you had pressed the squire very closely, you would probably have discovered that he deplored the want of spirituality in Mr Sivewright, while at the same time he appreciated to the fullest his truthfulness and sincerity. As for Mrs Des- borough, there is little doubt that she would have plunged as determinedly as Matthew did into the vortex of ritualism, if the man The Eaves of Swanover. 55 Lawrence Sivewright had not stood between her and the priest, Luke Lently. Cast suddenly into the midst of these con- flicting emotions, is it strange that Lady Valentina's mind should be rent by new ideas, or that at times she should hold her aching brow and feel inclined to exclaim, ' No plea- sure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth, a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene, and to see the errors and wan- derings and mists and tempests in this vale below.' But this happy state of affairs was not to be for her, at least not yet ; so rich an inheritance as the possession of a settled conviction is seldom attained, save after stemming a strong current of trial and diffi- culty. She had been listening for the last hour to a detailed account of how Mr Lently had set agoing every possible piece of re- ligious machinery in his parish, and she had secretly revered him for his zeal, even 56 Sackcloth aud Broadcloth. though she could not help agreeing with her father that too much fervour was injurious to a good cause. ' If one could only strike the balance be- tween these two vicars, what a model man you would have. Eh, Desborough ? ' his lordship had remarked ; but Lady Valentina gave the squire no time to answer. Quot-, ing readily from the Revelations, she said,— 1 " I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold. I would thou wert cold or hot." ' ' Lady Valentina is right,' exclaimed Mrs Desborough, ' there is no evil so great as lukewarmness. Violent opinions, one way or the other, wake us from sleep and set us thinking.' ' Just so, just so, if the clergy were all Lentlys,' answered his lordship, ' that would be the thing for the masses ; such doctrine as Sivewright preaches is very much like giving strong meat to babes.' The Eaves of Swanover. 5 7 ' Yet every one has not the faith to grasp Mr Lently's ideal.' 1 Alas, no ! and I doubt if Mr Sivewright's ministering would promote its cultivation.' ' No one can accuse Mr Sivewright of trying to tamper with an existing faith ; he is too honourable and right-minded,' said Mrs Desborough rather pointedly. ' Well, well, I fail to see the merit of that non-interference. Either Sivewright must think his opinions right, or he must think them wrong — they cannot be both. If he considers them right, and that he is justified in holding them, then surely he should be desirous that the whole world should have the benefit of his teaching.' 1 All minds are not constituted alike,' said Mrs Desborough, as though in extenuation. ' Religion can scarcely be treated - as a piece of india-rubber, and made to fit our minds. On the contrary, our minds must be made to fit it,' by which it may be in- 58 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ferred that Lord Beaurepaire's leaning was decidedly for Lently ; not individually, since his acquaintance with him was very slight, but for his teaching, which had perhaps lost some of its austerity by being filtered through Matthew's gentle nature. How the same opinions lose or gain in love, accord- ing to the spirit of him who teaches ! A prolonged argument about the various creeds which suited different temperaments was, however, arrested ; a loud barking of dogs in the stable-yard, and then the sound of wheels rumbling up the carriage drive, suggested a general move to the window, as visitors at that hour of the morning did not frequently arrive at Vantage. 1 Who can it be ? Oh, it is only a hired fly ; some one on business with Mr Desborough, no doubt,' and the lady of the house walked away as though a little impatient at the spurious interest which had been awakened. But the exclamation of ' Matthew ! ' uttered The Eaves of Swanove?'. 5 9 by Lord Beaurepaire, made her return once more to the 'post of observation.' Yes, there he was, looking handsomer than ever, his bright eyes beaming as he waved his hand in recognition to the little party standing at the dining - room window. He had taken Lady Valentina at her word, and started off at once on the receipt of her letter, travelling all night in his impetuous way ; and the flush on her face as she beheld him bore ample testi- mony that the arrival was no unwelcome one. Both his father and mother were too pleased to see him to ask why he was there. That no evil tidings had brought him was obvious from the complacent look on his face, in the expression of which there was a joyousness it but seldom bore, produced probably by his delight at. see- ing Valentina again. While some fresh breakfast was being prepared for him, his mother, however, could not resist asking him 6o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. why he had come back to them so very unexpectedly. ' I was getting very tired of London, and was wearying to see the old place again,' was, however, the only answer she received. It did not tell her much, though it proved that Matthew's heart was at Vantage. Since Lord Beaurepaire had become interested in the rival doctrines which were flourishing in the parishes of Fernwood and Ravensholme, and had heard them discussed ad nazpseam, as had been the case during the last ten days, he had arrived at a full understand- ing of why Matthew Desborough's opinions were wanting in firmness. Love and faith his warm heart demanded, these he sought and thought he had found in Lently's creed, only to have them trampled on as mere fallacies by the sterner more realistic doc- trines preached in the parish church. It was a severe trial and an unfair one. Lord Beaurepaire could not help feeling this The Eaves of Swanover. 6 1 rending of a young aspiring nature between two such conflicting elements ; and as he walked up and down the room, while Matthew ate his breakfast, the ladies chatted, and the squire stood by the fire, silently watching the boy he was henceforth to regard as his heir, Lord Beaurepaire revolved more facts in his mind in connec- tion with Matthew's life and character than had ever occurred to any of his relations, astute woman though his mother was. He fully understood why it was difficult for a nature, whose key-note was love, to grapple with the various and knotty points of doctrine which were so frequently the topic of discus- sion in his home. Doubtless much, very much, of the weakness apparent in Matthew's character was to be ascribed to education. Could Lently and Sivewright, the two ruling spirits of the religious neighbourhood, have been induced to a certain degree to give in, and meet half way on neutral ground, 62 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Matthew's career would probably have been totally different. No one who saw him now, as he sat talking and eating by turns, a fresh colour in his cheeks, a bright light in his large eyes, could do otherwise than admire, perhaps love him ; while to a think- ing mind would come perchance the reflec- tion that all that was most regrettable about Matthew was scarcely his fault. He was the victim of a desperate struggle, with too malleable a nature not to be more or less impressed by the opinions of each faction. So engrossed was Lord Beaurepaire by the contemplation of this subject, that every one had left the dining-room, and he still found himself walking up and down in deep meditation over Matthew's affairs. Possibly his lordship suspected the link that Cupid was surreptitiously forging between Matthew and Valentina, and in many ways it gave him satisfaction, for he loved the boy and The Eaves of Swanover. 6 respected his zeal, while he perhaps de- plored that it was always directed quite in the same channel. Finding himself alone, Lord Beaurepaire betook himself to his own room, several subjects at this issue required careful thought, added to which he was more or less of a studious man. Instead of elect- ing to pass the morning in isolation from his fellows, had he wandered about the grounds and noted Matthew's movements, he might perhaps have changed his opinions some- what, that is as regards Valentina. No sooner had Matthew escaped from the society of his mother and Valentina, and considering that he had travelled by express to the north on purpose to be with them, he did so with much speed, than he went out on a solitary ramble. Either by instinct or design his footsteps led him to Swanover Cottage. It looked deserted enough, with its closed shutters and dreary stillness, yet Matthew wandered round and round, as though ex- 64 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. pecting at each instant that light, life, and happiness would be awakened there. He him- self had been instrumental in their silence. Why should he wish, even almost expect, that they would come back for him as he longed ? He sat down on a bench, where in the last soft autumn-tide he had often sat with Claire, and fell to thinking. He loved Claire ; yes, of that there was little doubt, her pure sweet spirit never seemed to leave the atmosphere wherein he dwelt ; but was not his love for her rather that of man for angels. Was she not as a kind, gentle, sympathising guardian spirit, who smiled when he was seeking after righteousness, sorrowed when the lower demons tempted him to sin ; such love as this would never fill the void in his life, whereas Valentina — ah ! what he felt for Valentina was an absorbing passion ; while she, no, there was little of the guardian angel about her. As a woman she strengthened him in his weakness, helped The Eaves of Swanover, 65 him in his difficulties, and loved him, because love for the first time awakened in her heart, she did not seek to silence its cry. She loved him ! How did Matthew know that Valentina loved him ? Simply by circum- stantial evidence, still this very evidence, at times gave him more pain than pleasure; for how could he lay his allegiance unswerv- ingly at Lady Valentina's feet, when honour told him that he had already placed it at the disposal of another ? Poor Matthew ! verily his life of late had become an almost unsolv- able problem. As he sat on the bench among the leafless trees in the little wood near Swanover Cottage, all the buoyancy his features had displayed on his arrival from London in the morning had quite departed. He had been really glad to see Valentina again, so glad that he had escaped from her presence almost as soon as he had gained it, in order to obtain an hour of self-com- muning ; all the while mentally censuring vol. in. E 66 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. himself for his apparent neglect. Could she have seen him, as he lounged among the shades of the departed Claire, how many hours would have elapsed before Lady Valen- tina's trunks would have been packed, and she herself on her way to Belgrave Square ? Still she could scarcely be called injured in Matthew's heart tussle. Poor Claire, living on the expectation of a chance word from or about him, was the real victim. What should he do ? was the question he asked himself repeatedly as he lay there pondering. Notwithstanding his new heirship, and all the responsibilities it in- volved, should he take orders and foreswear the sex ? Not according to IVJr Sivewright — but Lently — should he go to Lently ? Then came the tremendous question, was he prepared to abide by Mr Lently's decision, whatever that decision might be ? ' He objects strongly to my marriage with The Eaves of ' Swanover, 67 Claire, and, after all, that ought really to be the consummation. Poor little Claire, she loves me very much ; but I doubt if she thinks I am good enough for her. She ought to marry a real saint. She would be much more unhappy about my uncertain faith than ever Valentina would be. Ah me, I wish we had not met that day in the thunder shower, then all this difficult ques- tioning would have been spared me. If I referred the matter to my mother, I know she would decide for Valentina ; but poor little darling Claire, I would not make her unhappy for the world ! She gave me up, yes ; but I refused to accept the offer, and I am as much pledged to Claire as though we had been man and wife this twelve- month. 1 There will be an immense amount of home contradiction ; but that must be overcome. If a man feels he is in the right, naturally he can withstand a good deal. Perhaps it 68 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. would be as well to tell Lady Valentina at once of my engagement to Claire, and so put the matter, as far as she is concerned, beyond any farther doubt.' Thus, under the eaves of Swanover, all the truth and chivalry in Matthew's nature were aroused, and even at the sacrifice of his own present inclinations he determined to act loyally. Strange and wayward freak of purpose that had made him decide for Claire, two hours after travelling a long cold journey in order to see and consult with Valentina ! 1 If a man only does what is right, he is sure to be happy ! ' he murmured half aloud as he at last got up and strolled off through the wood, still farther from Vantage. Strong determination seemed on a sudden to have come to Matthew, inspired, may be, by the silent shades of Claires forsaken home, for he walked very decidedly through the wood, across the road, and over the stile The Eaves of Swanover. 6 9 to the field which led direct to Ravens- holme, with the vicar of which village he had had no communication since the day they parted in anger on the subject of his pending marriage. CHAPTER V. BOUDOIR CONFESSION. H ETHER really or fictitiously, the duchess, on the morning following her visit to Vantage, found herself considerably indisposed. Indisposed, that is to say, after the fashion of fine ladies who lie artistically dressed in a peignoir of rich silk trimmed with costly lace on a boudoir sofa, and are only too pleased to receive visits from their intimate friends, male or female. The Duchess of Montarlis did not as a habit indulge in this luxury, still she was sufficiently imbued with the spirit of the times to permit herself the use of a now Boudoir Confession. 7 r prevailing custom, when the exigencies of her imposed role demanded it. It was such an easy way out of all the fuss there would be about those flowers, for of course the duke would brine Mr Sivewright to discuss their state with her, since she had made an effort to ask him to come and look at them, and naturally he would soon leave them for a chat. The duke was too busy a man to waste much time in his wife's boudoir, and then no occasion more fitting for the premeditated tete-d-tete. As the duchess had arranged in her mind, so, with the active Violet's co-operation, it befell ; she, meanwhile speeding off to pay her promised visit to Ravensholme, so as to be quite lost to view during the interview between the duchess and Mr Sivewright, from which she expected so much. The Vicar of Fernwood was very human and very keenly alive to the power of phy- sical beauty, it was surely therefore somewhat 72 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. of a trial to find himself alone with the fair Julia in her snug boudoir, with its damask- covered walls, its heavy scent-laden atmo- sphere, and, above all, its beautiful mistress looking more superbly lovely than usual in her pink satin flowing robes. Perhaps Julia, duchess, had calculated on this when she planned the situation. The duchess were no- true woman had she not been perfectly aware that Mr Sivewright admired her, and to-day at least she was determined to make the fullest use of her knowledge. The faded camellias had been discussed before the duke. Perkins, that stupid Perkins had not only let the fires go out, but had left a bit of window open, he must have been drunk. Mr Sivewright suggested various scientific modes by which frost-touched plants might be revived, while the duchess vainly sought to appear interested about a subject which bored her to extinction, till the duke left to give some orders — then she turned to her clerical friend. Boudoir Confession. 73 1 Pray let us talk of something else. I am quite tired of valves and pipes and flues. It is very tiresome no doubt, but the duke must order some fresh camellia plants. It is no use fussing.' There was a querulousness in her tone, which she evidently intended her pastor to notice. ' Your grace does not seem well this morning. What is the matter, duchess ? ' ' Everything is the matter. I am worried to death, and there is no one can help me but you.' 1 I ? then you need no longer be worried — spiritual matters/ eh ? Since that last trip to Italy your scruples have grown. It is curious what a power aesthetics have over women. Lently was a wise man when he chose that line. If it were not for the duke, it is* my belief even you would follow him.' ' ^Esthetics, Mr Sivewright, they have little to do with the question. It is the consolation 74 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. of having something strong to lean on that takes one into that branch of the church which offers it. Every one is not strong enough to bear their own burden.' For a moment Mr Sivewright thought of his conversation with Mrs Desborough after George's death ; no doubt there was much truth in the duchess's observations, and per- haps he felt it was a mercy there was a haven provided for the weak. He did not, however, feel disposed to drive the duchess into Mr Lently's arms, so he said very courteously, — 1 Let me hold yours for a few min-utes and see if I cannot reduce its weight.' Mr Sivewright proposing himself as con- fessor ! There was a topic for discussion among his opponents, did they but know it. Strange how in its details every prescribed faith, though widely different in external appear- ance, is akin. Bouaoir Confession. 75 1 Violet Tremayne.' The duchess uttered this name very softly, and then she was silent. Mr Sivewright, however, being no dullard, understood at once the sort of annoyance from which she was suffering. He pulled his chair a little nearer to her grace's sofa, and said with much more than his usual energy, — 1 Exactly, that is the very subject on which I should like an exhaustive talk with you. You know my opinion of Mrs Tremayne, we need not discuss that again ; but tell me, why is it necessary that she should be so much at Montarlis ? ' The duchess smiled very faintly. ' Perhaps she may not be so much here in future if — ' 1 If she marries Lord Beaurepaire, eh? My dear duchess, surely you cannot believe such a thing to be possible. She herself naturally would fly at the highest game ; but you — you cannot know much of Mrs Tremayne's pre- J 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. vious history if you think it will bear Beaure- paire scrutiny.' ' I know all about it ; alas, more — much more than you do ; but I am bound to further this marriage, and I look to you to help me.' * To me — God forbid ! I have ever re- garded class mixture as a gross and un- pardonable mistake.' The duchess's white face grew even paler than usual, though she said with a smile, — ( Oh, Mr Sivewright, you are as exacting as Lady Valentina. Do not be so severe on those who are not happy enough to lay claim to the pride of birth.' She tried to be jocular, but it was evident that the effort was almost too much for her. ' Do you really mean, duchess, that you do not perceive the evils that must arise from a marriage where the contracting parties are not of the same social status ? ' 1 Perceive them ? Oh yes, I perceive them all too well.' Boudoir Confession. yj And such a weary look came over her grace's face as she spoke, that Mr Sivewright paused in the diatribe he was about to com- mence against breaking down caste barriers, and suddenly changed his tone. ' Tell me,' he said, ' what can I do for you in the matter of Mrs Tremayne ? She is a friend, I fear, who savours somewhat of a foe.' 1 If you cannot help to arrange this marriage with Lord Beaurepaire,' answered the duchess, ' you can, at least, promise to be neutral.' 1 Which means, if I am asked as to Mrs Tremayne's antecedents, I need not know that she was once Cheap Jack's little Pearl' The duchess sprang up. ' Oh, Mr Sivewright, is it possible that you know so much and yet do not know all. Why, I myself was not aware of this. I knew of course the story of Pearl, but she never told me that its hero had appeared on the scene.' ' You see then, duchess, how very difficult is the task you would impose on yourself and me.' j& Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Difficult or easy, it must be accomplished or—' I Or — what is the alternative ? ' I I must bear the brunt of failure.' ' Supposing that Mrs Tremayne climbs to the lofty position to which she aspires, how do you propose to assure yourself the benefits arising from success ? ' 1 She has promised to return me a packet of letters which — ' The duchess stopped and passed her hand over her face as though to shield it from the scrutinising glances of her pastor. 1 Oh, I cannot tell you ; and yet, without knowing the whole truth, how can I expect you to help and guide me.' Curiosity was perhaps the strongest feel- ing that influenced Mr Sivewright at the moment, though he replied with every ap- pearance of mere professional interest, — ' My dear duchess, pray look on me as a mere doctor of souls. Tell me your Boudoir Confession. 79 troubles as you would tell your bodily ail- ments to your physician.' 1 The one is much easier than the other,' she answered, as she fell back among her cushions, looking very ghastly. ' My acquaintance with Violet Tremayne is not a thing of yesterday. We have passed through many an ordeal together — before she married Mr Tremayne, before I ever saw the duke.' She spoke in such a low tone as to necessitate Mr Sivewright's drawing his chair yet nearer to her ; and even then he could scarcely hear what she said. She stopped for a second as though breath failed her, and then she went on speaking very rapidly, but still almost inaudibly, — 1 We were girls together, thrown much into each other's society abroad, where my mother's health obliged us to stay. Violet was always what you see her now. A desperate throw to her was a mere pastime, whether at the gaming 8o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. tables or at the game of life ; but to say that Violet impelled me is no extenuation of my fault. Again the duchess stopped ; this time Mr Sivewright took her hand and pressed it warmly. This speechless sympathy inspired her with fresh courage, and she went on. — ' An officer in the Sardinian army— he — well, he flirted with us both ; but Violet was soon to marry Mr Tremayne. I was the vic- tim, that is, he wrote me letters, made assig- nations, which — well — I kept them, and — ' Mr Sivewright still held the duchess's hand, which she allowed to remain passively in his. Perhaps the contact inspired her .with con- fidence. He, however, had not derived much information from her somewhat dis- jointed account ; and feeling that she wanted some encouragement, with another gentle pressure he said softly, — ' And this Sardinian it is who is your bete noire. Surely, my dear duchess, it were not difficult to remove the incubus ? ' Boudoir Confession. 81 1 He was married,' she went on, speaking almost inarticulately ; ■ our meetings — our correspondence — were at last known to his wife; the scandal — my shame, shall I ever forget them ? ' ' But it is long ago, and buried, let us hope, as all unhappy memories should be, in a silent past/ 1 A silent past — Mr Sivewright, if you have found it possible to render the past silent, help me now to silence Violet Tremayne,' and the duchess, as she grew excited, raised her voice to its natural tone, and released her hand from the vicar's lingering touch. ' She holds you in her power by — ' 1 She has my letters, which she asked back from him at my request, and then kept to serve her own purposes.' 1 Could Mrs Tremayne be otherwise than disloyal ? But, tell me, how can her retention of the letters injure you now ? ' ' The duke, if he knew it would — oh, VOL. III. f Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Mr Sivewright, why will you make me own all my sin ? He told me before our marriage that he would never forgive any frivolity of conduct in his wife either before or after marriage. I told him I had nothing with which to reproach myself ; and the lie has never forgotten to haunt me since the day it was uttered.' * Ah, duchess, falsehood is a viper that, when warmed in a bosom, invariably stings sooner or later/ ' But, Mr Sivewright, now, surely now, I have had enough of suffering. You will help me to cure the pain now. Mrs Tre- mayne must be removed. I cannot bear this constant infliction any longer. Those letters, I must have them returned. Oh, God ! if you knew what I have suffered, surely — surely I have expiated my fault ? Let her marry Lord Beaurepaire, I implore, I en- treat — oh, if I could only get back my letters and be free ! ' Boudoir Confession. 83 A flush had come over her face as she talked, giving just the ray of warmth and life in which it was normally wanting. Mr Sivewright, who had on more than one occasion acknowledged the power which the duchess's personal attractions had over him, was at this moment more thoroughly her slave than he had ever been before. That she should be cast from her high estate for a fault of which it was evident she had repented in sackcloth and ashes, he resolved should not occur as long as he could stretch forth his strong right hand to prevent it. If electing himself the duchess's champion had but entailed the crushing of Mrs Tre- mayne, he would have liked the office better ; as it was, however, he must use the weapons of diplomacy instead of those of warfare, and always having a regard for his own dignity and honesty, assure to the duchess, if pos- sible, the solidity of position she so craved. However much carried away by admira- 84 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. tion, Mr Sivewright was by no means the sort of man to forget even for a moment the high standard of rectitude and honour to which he deemed it imperative that every man should attain who had any regard for his own self-respect, or the consideration of his fellows. Lying and deceit were in Mr Sivewright's eyes the gravest sins. How difficult then would it be for him to gain the duchess's cause by acting in concert with Violet Tremayne's views. 1 My dear duchess/ and once again Mr Sivewright took her grace's hand and pressed it this time between both his own, ' the letters shall be returned to you. I promise it, whether Mrs Tremayne does or does not marry Lord Beaurepaire.' ' But you will not oppose the marriage ? ' and the tone of the duchess's voice showed how really afraid of Violet she was. ' I will be silent,' he answered with some dignity ; ' making or marring marriages is, Boudoir Confession. 85 after all, scarcely in accordance with my office ; but there is nothing derogatory in the majesty of silence.' This was all Violet asked ; thus far then the duchess deemed her point was gained. Mrs Tremayne must herself fabricate the delicate webs by which Lord Beaurepaire was to be surrounded. ' You are kind, most kind/ she said. 1 Dear Mr Sivewright, to have you for an ally is indeed a comfort and support.' ' You feel — you know you can trust me utterly.' So the bond of a compact was sealed between them, and Mr Sivewright left Montarlis Castle that day with a pleasant smile wreathing about his lips. As the sleek cob trotted along the road past Ravensholme Church, its master was. mut- tering softly to himself, — 1 Est et fideli tuta silentio Merces.' CHAPTER VI. THE VICAR UNBENDS. J^RfjpO fight Mr Lently at every issue, if he should say anything in disparagement of Claire, . was Matthew's determination, as he turned in at the gate leading to Ravensholme Vicarage, and sauntered up the path which divided it from the house. The children had spied him from an upper window, and swooping down the stairs, received him at the door with deafening acclaim. So uproarious was their delight at seeing Matthew again, that Mr Lently came out of the study to inquire the cause of this more than usual outcry, and even his ascetic features could not forego a The Vicar unbends. 8j smile when he saw the heir of Vantage being nearly overpowered by the tempes- tuous welcomes of his offspring. At the same moment two heads looked out from the drawing-room, and Mrs Lently and Mrs Tremayne, who for the last half-hour had been closeted in gossiping conclave, now appeared on the scene. The vicar's face resumed its usual sternness when he saw them, the presence of his wife generally serving as an irritant, and her present companionship with her visitor from Mont- arlis Castle being especially distasteful to him. He shook hands very stiffly with Violet Tremayne, desired his wife rather sternly to send the children to the nursery, and then withdrew into his study, accom- panied by Matthew. For a second or two there was an awkward pause. Both men remembered that their last parting had been in anger, while the vicar was keenly alive to the fact of the vast change 88 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. in Matthew's circumstances, a change which the young man himself in no wise thought of as he found himself once more with his old director. He only recollected that he had been obstinately determined, that he had come now to discuss the subject once again, and that he must be on his guard not to let his own vacillation become apparent to his priestly mentor. 1 So, Matthew, I scarcely expected to see you in these parts just now. I heard you were studying philosophy so energetically that you could not be dissuaded from your reading.' Matthew coloured up at this attack, and said very rapidly, — ' No, no, it is not true. I don't think I shall go back to Mr Wharton any more.' To discuss the merits and demerits of philosophy with Mr Lently was, he felt, utterly impossible. 1 I presume that now you consider the The Vicar unbends. 89 study of polemics unnecessary ? ' said Mr Lently with some emphasis on the now. ■ It is a merciful interposition of Providence on your behalf, Matthew, if your theological training were to be placed in Wharton's hands/ 1 I shall not take orders/ said Matthew very shortly. ' Of course not — of course not. Unless the Church is required to provide a living it is seldom appealed to/ ' That is a hard verdict, Mr Lently. It would be scarcely possible to combine the duties of priest and squire ; and some day I shall be called .to fulfil those of the latter. I have no choice left me. I doubt too if I should have taken orders, even had my poor brother lived.' 'Indeed! and what changed the views of the young and ardent disciple, from whom our party hoped so much ? ' ' You yourself,' said Matthew, talking very 90 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. hurriedly ; ' ever since our last conversation I have been fighting against an ever-increas- ing conviction that I was unfit for the priestly office. I could not forego the pleasures of a domestic life. I could not live as — as Mr Sivewright does, for example.' ' Mr Sivewright ! ' and there was a sneer in Mr Lently's voice as he pronounced his reverend brothers name, into which he did not frequently allow himself to be trapped. He saw some surprise expressed on Mat- thew's face, and he instantly changed his tone. ' Of course — of course you will marry, it is now only right that you should do so. Claire, out of place in the priest's celibate, retreat, will prove a charming Lady Bounti- ful at Vantage Park.' 1 Claire ! ' and Matthew stopped. Natur- ally Mr Lently spoke of Claire. How could he know aught of that other love that had been disputing with her the possession of his heart of late. Should he tell him all his The Vicar unbends. 9 1 troubles, make a full confession, as he had been wont to do, before a feeling of coldness had sprung up between them ? Nay, it was impossible. How could Lently know aught of the various gradations in passion which different women were capable of inspiring ? Claire's name, falling so readily from his lips, had somewhat startled Matthew, who, although he had come to Ravensholme pre- pared to defend his position as regarded her, did not exactly expect to find that position at once taken for granted as an established fact. l-J Whom, if not Claire, do you intend to be your wife?' asked Mr Lently. 'It is true I have heard reports of your devotion to another lady ; but I, who have known you from boyhood, have not done you the in- justice to believe them.' Matthew winced, and heartily wished him- self out of the vicar's presence. The view Mr Lently evidently took of the exigencies of his life differed essentially from what he 9 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. had expected. To argue a point from all its bearings was an amusement in which Matthew especially delighted; but if he looked for a passage at arms he was doomed to dis- appointment on this occasion. Mr Lently had expressed himself so strongly against his marriage with Claire during their last inter- view, that Matthew quite expected him to take up the cudgels for Valentina now, since every one in a worldly sense must readily have admitted that she would be the prefer- able mistress of Vantage ; he had not reckoned for Lently not being a man of the world. 'I know what you mean,' he. answered, speaking very rapidly. ' Yes, Lady Val- entina is a great friend of mine, has been very good to me ; but there has been as yet no word of marriage between us/ ' As yet, Matthew — surely as long as Claire lives such a thing can never be in contemplation. Honour and justice alike forbid it.' The Vicar unbends. 93 1 1 thought you wished it to be broken off — I mean my engagement to Claire,' said Matthew a little nervously. 'No promise to any woman should be binding when a man is called to the priest- hood,' was the stern answer ; 'as a layman you are bound to Claire ; surely it cannot be possible that you are halting between two opinions.' ' No,' answered Matthew, perhaps not quite truthfully. 4 I intend to marry Claire, but I fancy my mother wishes me to pro- pose to Lady Valentina. I shall be harassed by much opposition at home.' 1 You must pray for strength to withstand it. Look upon this Lady Valentina as a temptress, a beautiful temptress, and cast her allurements from you.' Matthew could not forego a smile as. he watched the vicar's enthusiastic ardour, and thought of Valentina, the cold, proud Valen- tina, her anger and her dismay, had she 94 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. heard herself thus alluded to. It was only meet that he should defend her, he thought, as he said promptly, — ' There is no danger from her — she is more likely to refuse than to accept me. But Claire, Mr Lently, has she, do you think, been quite kind in going away so silently, but seldom even writing a line to me in all my troubles and difficulties ? ' ' Is it so ?' asked Lently; 'then I honour the child for her delicacy of character and regard for holy things.' * I do not understand.' ' She had, I hope, been taught .her duty under my poor ministry, and she would not stand between you and yours.' 1 Duty ! ' exclaimed Matthew impetuously ; ' there can be no true love in a woman who takes " duty only " for her motto.' 1 Matthew, is this the result of all my patient teaching ? Have I spent hours in prayer for you ; offered up even sacrifices The Vicar itnbends. 95 in your behalf, to hear such sentiments from your lips ? Oh, my poor young brother, I fear me you have fallen into evil ways. Pray God it may be granted to a pure, loving spirit like Claire's to regain you from the dreary waste.' Matthew got up a little irritated by what he deemed Mr Lently's impertinent and undue interference in his love affairs. £ He would marry whom he chose — by Jove he would,' he muttered sotto voce. It was the nearest approach to an oath that had ever passed Matthew's lips in his life, and fortu- nately his director did not hear it, though he saw the angry frown on his brow and the flash in his large bright eyes. He shook his head sadly, to Mr Lently it was as if a lamb had been lost from the fold he loved so well. He held out his hand however with a kindly gesture, and said soothingly, — ' Do not let us part in anger this time also, my dear Matthew. If I have said any- 96 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. thing to vex you, remember it is the deep interest I take in your welfare which makes me truthful. It is for you to decide on the arrangements of your future life ; but let me implore you to be true to yourself and to your faith ; believe, my son, that my prayers will ever follow you in the future as they have done in the past/ It was seldom that Mr Lently spoke so temperately. When under the influence of a strong excitement, as he was at this moment, he usually allowed himself to be carried away by his emotions, and thus frequently injured the cause he had so much at heart, pre- venting many who might otherwise have believed in him, from perceiving the real good there was in the man concealed be- neath an outward coating of what was apt to sound like cant. Matthew, knowing full well the avalanche of anathemas he was accustomed to hurl on those who differed from him in opinion or doctrine, appreciated The Vicar unbends. 97 to the fullest his present mild rebuke ; and, seizing his proffered hand, he shook it warmly. ' I will be true/ he said with much sup- pressed feeling, ' true to myself and — Claire.' So the voice that had been whispering to Matthew from under the eaves of Swanover, spoke yet more loudly at Ravenshoime. He left Mr Lently's study by the door lead- ing out of the house ; nor sought any farther communication that day with Mrs Lently and her children, much to the disappoint- ment of the latter, who were all waiting im- patiently till the private interview with their father should have ended ; but Matthew felt that he must be alone for a time. He must let the various conflicting emotions which were raging in his mind have their full sway, and perhaps when they had partially spent themselves, he would be able to guide 'his feelings into a definite channel with some capability of determining whether inclination and honour had any chance of walking side VOL. III. G c 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth* by side. He strayed into a little copse lying on the outskirts of the Vantage property which on previous occasions had not unfre- quently been chosen as a spot where he could ruminate without observation or interruption. It was strange that impetuosity and vacilla- tion should both hold a prominent place in Matthew's nature. The first ever made him act on the spur of the moment ; the second made him reflect and wonder whether, in so doing, he had acted wisely. The reflective spirit held the chief sway over him at this present time, and it pronounced for Claire. Still he could not bring himself to give up all thoughts of Valentina without a struggle, and after all there was no occasion to do anything rashly. ' Surely it were well to be just a little guided by circumstances,' he muttered to himself, as he at last rose from the recum- bent position under a large tree into which he had thrown himself the better to think out The Vicar unbends. 99 his subject ; ' for, after all, Claire has not treated me well,' and he began to saunter slowly towards the house, where Valentina had been long wondering over his absence, though she was far too proud to appear other- wise than perfectly composed and indifferent. She was standing at the window though, as he came leisurely across the lawn. He did not see her, but she noted full well the jaded careworn look about his expressive face which, to her watchful mind, told at once of fierce mental tribulation and inward strife. ' What could she do to help him ? ' was her first thought. Strange that if the troubled state of his feelings had brought him home, he should have avoided rather than sought advice and consolation from her. But the luncheon bell had rung some minutes. Valentina could not, without a breach of good manners, do otherwise than bring her con- jectures and hesitations to a speedy conclu- i oo Sackcloth and Broadcloth. sion, and go down into the dining-room, where she had no doubt of meeting Matthew. In this, however, she was doomed to disappoint- ment. Matthew had gone straight to his room on entering the house, leaving word that, as he had breakfasted so late, he wanted no luncheon ; and Lady Valentina was con- demned to dawdle through what seemed to her a very tedious repast, unenlivened by long prosaic statements from Mrs Des- borough anent a morning's work to which she had been devoting herself in the parish — for the two ladies were en tete-d-tete, Lord Beaurepaire had gone for a walk,- and the squire never appeared at luncheon. Then followed the usual afternoon drive, taking Valentina still farther away from all chance of meeting Matthew ; and never before had it occurred to her to think Mrs Desborough's conversation so heavy as she did that day. Back at last, however, at Vantage, Matthew was standing on the door-step to receive The Vicar unbends. 101 them, looking so beaming and full of smiles as to bewilder Valentina and make her heart beat when she saw him. Could it be that Matthew had really made up his mind as to a definite course of action during the last few hours. Time alone would prove. CHAPTER VII. A SNOWDROP, S^^fRS DESBOROUGH said it was cold and disagreeable, the early spring day with its English ac- companiment of east wind did not suit her, and she passed on quickly into the house. It was not quite certain whether the drive in the fresh air had produced a shivering sensation, or whether she deemed it expedient to leave Matthew and Valentina together for a brief space, for most assuredly Mrs Desborough was as anxious to promote this marriage as she had been desirous to break off the en- gagement with Claire Bailey. The carriage drove slowly round to the stables, the footman A Snowdrop. 103 disappeared through an inner door with the wraps, but the two young people still stood on the door-step, contemplating the sunset behind the high trees in the park. Those fiocculent masses of cloud, as they stretched, tinted with ruby and amber, across the horizon, had many a time before in one or another of their varied forms suggested a topic when conversation halted ; and their beauty was as good as any other subject now to loosen the tongues of this couple, who for some reason had, from being fast friends with endless objects of mutual interest to discuss, become on a sudden silent and shy. ' If we go through the wood up the little hill yonder, we shall be able to look down on the sun. Will you come, or are you afraid of the damp ? ' Matthew said, after they had contemplated for a few minutes the roseate clouds receding from the tree tops. ' Oh no, I am not delicate, and I should like a walk very much.' 104 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. So they started together, Mrs Desborough, who saw them from the library window, smil- ing complacently to herself as they passed out of sight. They walked rapidly away to the top of the hill to which Matthew had alluded, and no word of individual interest had been spoken. For aught their conver- sation conveyed, they might have been the merest chance acquaintances, and yet both their hearts were full of thought for each other. Valentina was the first to break the spell which seemed to be hanging over them. ' It has been a sad coming home for you, I fear, Mr Desborough ? I did not know it would have affected you so much, or I should not have written to induce it — forgive me,' she said, when the sun having almost disappeared, she became emboldened in the deepening shadows. 1 Sad, yes, it has been sad — worse perhaps than sad ; but how do you know ? ' ' How do I know ? Have I seen so A Snowdrop. 105 much of you of late, and not learned to read your mental barometer.' 1 Yet I am not easy to understand or read ; at least so my friends tell me.' 1 The motives which occasion rapid fluc- tuations are, I agree at times, quite unsolv- able ; but still I always know when storms are about, and am very pleased when I can note that your glass stands at set fair.' 1 Is it at set fair now ? ' 'No, Mr Desborough, it is not. Change- able, I should think, would be the correct definition of your present phase.' He looked at her with some curiosity, but he did not speak for a few seconds, then he said abruptly, — 1 I went to see Lently this morning.' 1 Indeed ! Did anything take place during the interview to annoy or excite you ? ' 1 He urges me to marry — says that now I am an eldest son I ought to take a re- 1 06 Sackcloth and Brcadcloth, sponsibility with which as a priest I had no right to encumber myself.' The hot blood rushed into Lady Valentina's face ; it was her turn to be silent. Once having made up his mind to broach this subject with Lady Valentina, it was so like Matthew to rush into it headlong. Having done so, he stopped short, waiting perhaps for her to help him ; but, if so, he waited in vain, and was obliged to ask pointedly, — * Have you no opinion to offer ? ' ' I should not dream of giving one on such a matter,' she said decidedly. ' And why not ? I thought you had undertaken the care of me in all things/ 1 Marriage is a serious affair ; it is one with which other people should not meddle. I have no right — no wish/ Lady Valentina spoke hurriedly — a little incoherently. ' Serious, yes, but not more serious than religion, and you have often given me 4 Snowdrop. 107 your views about that,' and there was just a twinkle of amusement in Matthew's large eyes as he looked at her. She detected it at once, and drew herself up with a degree of stiffness that would have chilled the most ardent swain. ' Let us talk of something else. Excuse my indifference ; but I never can interest myself in a marriage.' ' How odd ! I thought all women did ; but then you are not like other women, Lady Valentina. I own I always place you on a pinnacle far, far above them.' She gave an almost inarticulate, 'Ah!' Down at its base, lying among the dust, were. a more enviable position than to be placed on a height and worshipped, not loved. Matthew, however, formed no guess as to what was passing in her mind. He merely conjectured that she accepted the compliment somewhat coldly ; that she was, in fact, of a frigid unimpressionable nature. 1 08 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. How often in life is pride mistaken for coldness ? As far as Lady Valentina was concerned, there was no harm done, he concluded ; in fact had he asked her to marry him, he would probably have met with a flat refusal, and Matthew felt not a little piqued at the surmise. Did she deem him insignificant and incapable of inspiring love, he wondered, or was it that she was indifferent to all masculine homage ? And then the thought came into his mind that to win Lady Valentina's affections would indeed be a triumph ; but the idea passed almost as soon as it came, for to win them only to cast them away lightly, were an ignoble act ; and had he not made up his mind that his honour was pledged to Claire Bailey — and yet ? ' I am disappointed — very much disap- pointed — that you will not interest yourself in my future,' he said a little pointedly. A Snowdrop. 109 1 I don't know what you mean. Have I not always done so ? Tell me, what are your views about pursuing your studies at Mr Wharton's ? ' ' I have left there — for good.' 1 Indeed ! You are most startling in your assertions to-day, Mr Desborough. One would think — ' 1 That I had never been vacillating and undecided, that is just it. I have turned over a new leaf. In future I intend to make up my mind at once.' ' And abide by it ? ' she asked, with just the very least inclination to a smile. 1 And abide by it. You shall not say my barometer is set at " Changeable " any more — in fact, Lady Valentina, you will not know me.' 1 No, I shall not know you, so it seems/ she echoed dreamily. He looked at her in surprise, it was not usual .for her to be so absent and indifferent. 1 1 o Sackcloth and Broadcloth. but he could assign no reason for it, and coming to the conclusion that the conversa- tion flagged rather unpleasantly, he sug- gested that as it was growing dusk they had perhaps better begin to wend their steps homewards ; so they turned towards the house, and she rushed into another topic with an irrelevancy which had hitherto been Matthew's especial province, and asked, — ' Have you ever given your attention to any particular school in painting ? Are you inclined to admire the arrangements, sym- phonies, and harmonies in colour, about which one hears so much ? ' ' What a sudden digression,' Matthew said, by way of answer. ' Yes. I daresay it seems so. I for- got we had not spoken of it before. It is a bad habit of mine to allude to what is in my thoughts, and I have been think- ing a good deal about art since I had a discussion about it with Mr Sivewright.' A Snowdrop. 1 1 1 ' Oh ! Sivewright. He knows every- thing.' ' Yes, he seems to be very well read and scholarly. He is a great favourite at Vantage. Do you like him, Mr Des- borough ? ' 1 Yes — and no. I think he is a scrupul- ously conscientious man ; but I object to the tenets he holds. And you ? ' ' Oh ! I am rather perplexed. I never heard religion so much discussed in my life as I have done during the last few weeks. So many new views have been thrown on it, which never occurred to me, pursuing as I did the " even tenor of my ways." 1 I hope the opening of a new vista has served to increase your faith,' said Matthew zealously. ' Faith — faith — belief is all we need.' ' Or truth,' suggested Lady Valentina. 'It is useless to take a thing on faith, unless you believe it to be the truth.' 1 1 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' You have indeed been having some conversations with Sivewright lately,' said Matthew with a sigh. 1 It wanted no Mr Sivewright to tell me that I must find out for myself before I can agree to believe.' ' Have you forgotten St Thomas ? Be- ware, lest the lesson bestowed on your doubting heart be a far more severe one than his was.' ' I did not say my heart doubted,' she almost cried, for she felt anguish-torn, not- withstanding her coldness of manner and regality of mien. ' But when one is beset on every side by conflicting opinions ; when those you esteem the most do not retain the same views for two consecutive days, what is there to believe in ? Certainly neither man's faith nor human honour.' Never during their entire acquaintance had Matthew seen Lady Valentina thus excited, and he was thoroughly startled and astonished A Snowdrop. 1 1 3 1 1 do not understand,' he said. ' What has happened since you have been at Van- tage to try you thus ? ' But Lady Valentina's ebullition of feeling had been but momentary ; before he had finished speaking she had already recovered, and was again her usually placid self. 1 Oh, it is nothing,' she said, ' only I am rather tired of polemical discussions, and not feeling very well to-day, the mention of them makes me irritable.' 1 Not well ! Oh, I am so sorry, and I have dragged you out to walk with me in the damp ! How selfish I am ! Tell me what I can do ? ' 1 Nothing — it is merely the east wind. I am always strong,' and there was an amount of self-reliance in the latter part of her sentence which had the effect of chilling Matthew, as perhaps she had in- tended that it should do, not being par- ticularly pleased with his conduct since his VOL. III. II H4 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. arrival at home. He walked beside her in silence for a few minutes. What was it that had set up a barrier between him and Lady Valentina ? he wondered. At any cost it must be broken down, and he was just about to ask her if he individually had done anything to annoy or vex her, when the third person, who so unfailingly appears at the most inconvenient moments of real life, stepped in, in the person of Mrs Tremayne, and changed the whole current of their talk. Matthew felt a little provoked at meeting her, but his annoyance was as nothing to that which Violet experienced when she almost stumbled against them in the semi-darkness. She never missed her point, however, whatever the emer- gency. 1 Oh, I am late,' she said ; ' is it not horrible to be out alone at this hour ? But I did not expect to meet you two.' Lady Valentina coloured up with anger. A Snowdrop. 1 1 5 The term ■ you two ' jarred ; she regarded it as an impertinence. 1 1 presume you have been detained ? ' she said very stiffly. ' And it is three miles to Montarlis,' put in Matthew. 1 Don't remind me of it, Mr Desborough, please, I am such a silly thing ; I can never think of time when I am amused, and Mrs Giles is so very amusing/ ' Mrs Giles ! ' ' Yes, would you believe it ? I have been all day at Ravensholme ; ever since I met you this morning, part of the time at the vicarage, the rest with Mrs Giles.' ' But this is not the way from Ravensholme to Montarlis!' ' Is it not ? Well, no, not the straight way exactly ; but the sunset was so lovely I made a little detour, and then the darkness came on so fast. Oh dear ! ' If Matthew and Lady Valentina had in- 1 1 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. spected the adjoining copse with observant eyes, they would have noted that Violet was not so utterly alone as she would have them believe. Cheap Jack was tracking her steps like a shadow, and did not intend to lose sight of her till she was safe inside the gate leading into the stable-yard at Montarlis. 1 You had better come back with us to the house ; my mother will I am sure be delighted to see you, and I can drive you home later in the pony carriage.' Lady Valentina looked dignified, and preserved a rigid silence ; but then of course it was not her place to invite. There was a crackling as of sticks in the wood, which made them all look round ; but no one was visible, only Violet said hurriedly, — 1 Oh, no thank you. I would not for worlds. The duchess would think I was lost, and what would the duke say ? In A Snowdrop. 1 1 7 some houses it is imperative that one shall appear prettily dressed for dinner.' Mrs Tremayne invariably held up the duke as the Cerberus who mounted guard over her actions ; the truth being that he troubled himself very little about her, pro- viding she kept her erratic goings and com- ings within a certain boundary of decorum ; but then it looked so well to have a ducal guardian. 1 Pray do not let us keep you,' said Lady Valentina, holding out her hand, and by the frigidity of her manner, at once showing that she at all events had no desire for Violet's company at Vantage. In fact so marked was it, that Violet, who loved contradiction, was instantly seized with a desire to accept Matthew's invitation, only at that moment the crackling once more made itself heard in the bushes ; so, with a short ' Good-bye ' she sped swiftly on, as though she had but one object in life — to reach Montarlis before the last 1 1 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. faint glimmer of light should have left the sky. ' Jolly little woman. I often wish I had her spirits and her independence,' observed Matthew as soon as she was gone. 1 You admire her ? You are cosmopolitan in your tastes, Mr Desborough.' 1 Yes, I suppose I do admire her in a way. There is no objection, is there ? One does not want all the flowers in one's garden to be of the same hue.' 4 Of course not ; but I did not know till now that you had a garden,' and the fashion- able sunflower drew herself up as though she scouted the impertinent glariness of the unblushing peony. 5 Has not every man a garden ? ' asked Matthew with a laugh ; ' some large, some small. You did not imagine that a snow- drop was the only flower on which I had ever gazed or ever had an affection for, prize its merits though I may.' A Snowdrop. 1 1 9 1 A snowdrop ; what could Matthew mean by a snowdrop ? ' asked Lady Valentina off herself. The appellation was scarcely one he would bestow on her. But she did not ask him, only said as lightly as she could, — ' Oh, all you men are alike, I am afraid, and equally severe on us poor women if we venture to admire half-a-dozen different flowers.' They were close to the house by this time, and there was no time for farther conversation. On reaching it Lady Valentina went straight up to her room. She murmured ' A snow- drop ' more than once as she smoothed her hair, and made ready to join Mrs Desborough in the library, but each time that the pure white flower seemed to lift its head from its modest hiding-place, she felt more and more dissatisfied with her afternoon's walk and Matthew's coming home. If Lady Valentina's mind in her solitary 120 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. moments was filled with conflicting emotions, Lord Beaurepaire, smoking an ante-prandial cigar in the shrubbery near the house, was not less the victim of many misgivings. Re- turning from the long walk on which he had started in the earlier part of the day, he too had seen Violet Tremayne, himself un- seen, and the sight had scarcely been as pleasing as it usually was. She was sitting on the top of a high gate, her feet on the second bar, her elbows on her knees, her face resting on her hands, looking very fixedly at a man in a striped blouse, with whom she was talking earnestly. As the last rays of the setting sun fell on the scene, it was a pretty one, at least so an indifferent person would have thought. Violet, with her red skirt, velvet jacket, and black wide-a-wake pushed back off her fore- head, looked decidedly picturesque ; while Jack Varley, with his striped blouse and green velvet cap, seemed a fitting mat A Snowdrop, t 2 r But Lord Beaurepaire shuddered ; he failed to note artistic effects, at all events in this instance. All the sensitiveness and refine- ment, all the ideas of decorum that there were in this thorough gentleman of the old school, recoiled before the sight of Mrs Tremayne, whom he had condescended to admire, talking to a low vagabond, whose business it was to travel about the country with a pedlars cart. An ocular demonstration accomplished at a glance what volumes of disparaging words from Lady Valentina's lips would have failed to effect. CHAPTER VIII, HONOUR OR DISHONOUR. R SIVEWRIGHT, on reaching Fernwood Vicarage after his inter- view with the duchess, gave his cob over to the youth who filled the situa- tion of factotum, and then with his hat well- set on his brows, his hands crossed behind his back, he went for a saunter across the glebe into the little wood beyond. For the first time in his life the Rev. Lawrence had been asked to take a part in a real living intrigue, and he scarcely accepted the invitation con amove. To stand at a little distance and watch a play fed his cynical tastes, and amused him vastly ; but active Honour or Dishonour. 123 co-operation was rather to be dreaded, unless he felt certain he could enact his role with dignity and success. Nothing Mr Sive- wright feared so much in social affairs as failure. More than once he repeated the old Horatian line, telling of the reward of faithful silence ; but faithful silence would scarcely bring the duchess back her letters, and had he not promised on his honour that she should have them ? Let Mrs Tremayne marry Lord Beaurepaire ! What was it to him ? But even then he must beard the lioness in her den ; id est, the widow in her boudoir, and demand the letters. Let Mrs Tremayne marry Lord Beaurepaire ! — a frown contracted the vicar's brow. Perhaps he suddenly thought of Valentina ; but he did not encourage her presence in his mind. ' They, Lady Valentina and her father, would doubtless return to London very soon, and, after all, why shouldn't Mrs Tremayne marry the old lord ? ' he asked again of 1 24 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. himself rather tartly. At all events he elected not to interfere, but to wait and watch till the moment came when the duchess's letters must be demanded. 1 Tout vient a celui qui salt attendrel he muttered as, having made the circuit of the wood, he strolled back to the vicarage to see what Mrs Green would give him for luncheon. Here he found a note from Vantage. Matthew had returned home that very morning, and Mrs Desborough said would he come to dinner and meet him. So here was a fresh entanglement, and the vicar's frown came back as he con- sidered it. 1 Left Wharton's and returned so suddenly. Wherefore ? ' and he twisted Mrs Des- borough's note round and round ; but she, generally so diffuse in her statements, gave no reason for this unexpected arrival. He must wait till the evening to learn reasons ; and — somewhat unusual phase in his character Honour or Dishonour, 125 — the vicar felt irritably impatient at the delay. It was scarcely becoming a true philosopher to give way to peevishness and annoyance over so small a cause, he, however, de- cided, with a smile at his own want of temper ; so he made a careful luncheon, with a due regard to the dinner at Vantage that was to follow, and then, having smoked a fragrant Havanna, he betook himself to his books, and in their charmed society was soon lost to all consideration of how the machinery of human life which was work- ing at full steam all around him, did or did not affect him individually. At last the waning daylight reminded him that it was time to dress and start, if he meant to reach Vantage by dinner time ; and thus about an hour after Matthew and Lady Valentina had parted on the threshold of the great hall door, Mr Sivewright came round the base of the little hill, through the copse, past the very spot where they had met Violet Tre- 126 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. mayne. As he emerged from it, and stood on the edge of the large field which lay between him and the house, the moon sud- denly appeared from behind a cloud, and in its light the vicar saw distinctly the shadow of a man leaning against a tree at some little distance. Mr Sivewright was no coward, and was, moreover, too accustomed to walk about at night to be prone to imagination on the subject of ghosts or robbers ; yet he started when his eye fell on this moon- illumined figure. 1 Robin or Job, which of you is it there ?' he called in his most authoritative voice, supposing it might be one of the stable helpers at Vantage. 'Neither, your reverence,' and the figure moved towards the vicar. ' Cheap Jack ! Why, what on earth are you doing prowling about the- squire's fields after dark ? Do you know you might be had up for trespass ? ' Honour or Dishonom 1 Trespass, your reverence. I ain't tres- passing no more than you. ' And there was a sullenness about Varley's answer which rather surprised Mr Sive- wright, to whom the man had always been most deferential, and made him wonder if Varley had been drinking. • Come, come, Varley, don't talk like that, * it is unbecoming.' ' Oh ! I'm sick of manners and swells and humbug,' he said doggedly. ' 'Tain't no mortal use to pretend to be what you ain't, that's my opinion.' ' Just so, Varley, quite right. Sailing, under false colours is most reprehensible. But to whom are you alluding ; not to yourself, I hope ? ' 1 Me — no, I'm straightforrard enough. It is her that I am speaking of.' 'Her?' and there was a decidedly as- tonished inflexion in Mr Sivewright's voice. 128 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 Yes, she ain't true to no one, least of all to herself.' 'But I do not know who you mean by her! ' Why, Pearl. Mrs Tremayne that is ? ' ' Oh, then you acknowledge the identity ; and I suppose you cannot get the lady to agree to it ? ' 1 'Tain't that, your reverence, she knows she's Pearl, and she's owned it ; but she won't tackle to, and be " hail fellow well met," with her old pal. She is all for lords and ladies, and folks that wasn't a bit in her world when she was a child.' ' My good friend, Varley, if you were standing on the top rung of a ladder, do you think you would be fool enough to throw yourself off at the risk of breaking your neck ? ' ' Yes, if I thought I could save a fellow- being from pain, who was standing gasping at the bottom.' Honour or Dishonour. 1 29 1 Then you are one in a thousand, and I give you honour ; but you must not expect to find sentiments like these in every breast.' ' Perhaps not, leastwise, they are not in her's.' The stable clock at Vantage struck half- past seven. ' I shall be late for dinner. I must go. I am sorry, as I should like to have a talk with you. Come to the vicarage to-morrow early, about nine o'clock, and let us discuss the subject freely.' Varley agreed, and the vicar passed on. Here was another troublesome and ill- fitting link to be added to the chain of circumstances which was encircling the little intimate society in which he daily dwelt, thought the Rev. Lawrence, as he rapidly crossed the park and rang the door bell. He had not shaken hands warmly with the lady of the house, somewhat frigidly with Lady Valentina, said a few kindly words to the squire, and patted Matthew familiarly VOL. III. 1 130 Sackcloth and -Broadcloth. on the shoulder, before he became aware that in this household, as at Montarlis, the component parts did not fit. He had known Matthew intimately since his babyhood, it were strange if he had not detected in him symptoms of restlessness, which were only too apparent. The fact was that though he had thoroughly made up his mind in the earlier part of the day that no one should separate him from Claire, yet the walk with Valentina had served once more to unsettle Matthew's feelings ; her coolness and her dignity in fact serving to render him more des- perately in love with her for the time, than he had ever previously imagined himself to be. When dishonour talks very big about honour, and urges the latter, not only as its justification, but as its compelling agent, we are perhaps in more danger than at any other time of forming unto ourselves a false conscience. If ever open confession be good for the soul, it is assuredly at such a juncture. Honour or Dishonour, i/U Matthew was quite man enough to see his peril. He had gone to Lently, but what- ever liorht his interview with that zealous o divine had cast upon his soul had become blurred and insufficient, now that his feel- ings were intensified a hundredfold by his peripatetic conference with Valentina. It is doubtful whether any possible turn of events could have formed his passion for her to so white a heat as had that quiet after- noon ramble, during which apparently little or nothing had happened. Yet of such stuff are we. Sensational occurrences, perils braved together, furious jealousy, all these, while they serve to intensify love, not un- frequently bring with them an amount of excitement which helps us to bear whatever they inflict. Had his idol responded differ- ently to his inuendoes — to his probings and soundings, shall we say ? Had she, as was most improbable certainly, overcome by her disappointment at finding herself so far from 132 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. the goal she fondly hoped she had all but reached, as well as by her real love for this man, the first she had ever cared about at all — had she broken through her native pride, and, only half-invited, confessed her passion and her unhappiness, she must infallibly have lost ground with Matthew, however sweet and welcome to his ears such an avowal might have been at the moment. He would have caught her to his heart of course, and in the first rush of his boisterous feelings he would have doubtless told her she was the breath of his life, the one earthly hope of his soul, and much more in like strain ; but a moment later all the dreary falseness of his position would have reared up like an avenging demon against him. * Now that this woman was in his arms, what was he to do with her ? ' would have been the inevitable ques- tion. In the first place, in the abstract, a woman in such a position is almost invari- Honour or Dishonour. 133 ably as depreciated, ipso facto, as the trout that is landed, or the fox after a kill, suspense ever giving a keener relish than success to the true sportsman. Most unreasonably Matthew jumped to the conclusion that the simple self-respect, the ordinary dignity which Valentina had shown during their colloquy were proof that she either regarded him with indifference, or that he had at least greatly overrated whatever little feeling she might entertain in his favour- A very few minutes, even the time while he dressed for dinner, sufficed to bring the two leading heads of his cogitations into definite shape. First, he told himself that he wor- shipped Valentina as woman had never been worshipped before. Next, in order to be quite unshackled, he would put himself at once in his friend Sivewright's hands as to honour and duty, with regard to his right to marry her. This, as appeared to him now, was a minor point, and as such 134 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. though why we hardly know, sure to be triumphantly decided in his favour. In this frame of mind he joined the circle assembled for dinner, of whom Mr Sive- wright was one, and as any definite plan of action is a relief after perplexity, Matthew got through the first part of the evening comfortably and creditably enough, nor do the sayings and doings of the party call for any special notice or record. At eleven o'clock the Vicar of Fernwood took his courteous leave, and Matthew of course volunteered to walk home with him. Mr Sivewright had not proceeded a hundred yards before he perceived that his young friend took in none of the sense, if he heard the words of his remarks, and as it was not a case of any ceremony between them, he said cheerily, — ' Come, Matthew, you have something to say to me, out with it, and lose no time to the form.' Honour or Dishonour. 135 1 You are quite right, I have something very particular to say, but I am not sure you are right as to the unimportance of the form. A thing depends so much upon the way you put it.' ' It may do so to a crowd, or still more to a jury, but so long as you state the whole case — I flatter myself — I shall come to much the same conclusion, which ever end of the story you begin at.' 1 Well, here goes then, but I tell you that the issue is life or death to me, and that, be your dictum what it may, I shall abide by it.' Perhaps Matthew took this very decided tone from an unacknowledged feeling that it was enough for Mr Lently to have come to one conclusion for a man so exactly the contrary of him, as was his present padre, to arrive at an opposite one. He went on, — ' The case is simply this. If a man finds himself in love with one woman, and has an old, but a still nominally binding engagement 1 36 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. to another, ought he to — which is the more manly and honourable — in short — but why should I deal in abstract statements, the case, as you have already guessed, is mine, my very own.' 1 Naturally,' said the vicar very quietly. * Well, you know what a mere boy I was in feeling and experience, when I engaged myself to Claire Bailey. Not but what I think the world of her now as a sister, love her dearly as a sister, that is all. How was I to know,' he went on impetuously, ' the vast, the unspeakable difference between the mild interest, the tranquil affection with which my untried heart regarded her, and the soul- absorbing, the raging love of which I only now discover that I am capable ? ' There, as ever, it will be noted that can- dour was Matthew's strong point. He seemed made for the confessional. As much cannot be said for his hearer. Truly a father con- fessor should be not only unmarried but H 07i02ir or Dishonour. 1 3 7 unmanageable — dead to the things of this world. The willing penitent, in this instance, little suspected into how unwilling an ear he was pouring forth his tale. Yet it was not in Sivewright to flinch. He felt sorely vexed at this fresh weight in the scale against his chance of winning the fair lady of Beaure- paire ; but he had too well founded a reliance upon his honesty to feel any embarrassment on the score of his own interest swaying in either direction the advice he should deem it his duty to give. We say in either direction, because instances are not rare among the devout, and our friend Lently was probably one of these, who would be violently pre- judiced in favour of any decision which, humanly speaking, was very distasteful to them. Not so with Mr Sivewright. There is such a thing as arriving at a fairly correct idea of one's own strong and weak points, spite of all that may be urged on the score of self-deception, and the Vicar of Fernwood 138 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. was perfectly aware that he was incorruptibly honest, whatever weaknesses, and they were not few or slight, he might dally with in other directions. But to return. After taking a few moments to digest the young man's ardent speech, he said, — ' Am I to understand that you deem i L your duty, subject to my opinion, to write to Miss Bailey, and say that since you proposed to, and were accepted by her, you have met another woman who has inspired you with a far stronger feeling, and that therefore Miss Bailey must consider the engagement at an end.' ' That is not the way in which — ' 1 Never mind the manner, that is mere detail. That is in substance the matter of what you would say. After all, the import- ant point for your first love,' here Matthew winced, ' is whether you love and mean to marry her, or whether you do not. I can quite understand that the way you put it appears Honour or Disho7iour. 1 39 to you of great consequence, but it is a supremely small matter to her.' There is nothing so repulsive to one about to commit an act of cruelty, as to have the masquerading fleece of the lamb in which he has mentally enveloped his wolf to his own conscience, unceremoniously torn aside. It was with growing - irritation of tone that Matthew replied, — ' Tell me, is not this irrefutable logic ? The question is one of injury to Claire/ Of two evils, I am bound to choose the lesser. Shall I go to her, acting a part I no longer feel ? Lie to her, by saying my affection is unchanged, and perjure myself at the altar of God by swearing I love her, while another woman fills all my heart ? Doom her, in short, to a life of misery ? For what man, not naturally a hypocrite, could make a wife happy for long in such a fools paradise ? Or shall I not rather say honestly and like a man, if it were necessary for 1 40 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. your happiness to lay my head on the block, I give you my honour I would do so with- out hesitation ; but as to our engagement, I cannot honourably fulfil it. When I asked you to be mine I was a mere boy, knowing nothing of life or of my own heart. I have awakened as from a pleasant trance. As much for your sake as for mine, I tell you my affection for you — which nothing shall ever diminish — has changed its nature. I love you as a brother, but that is all ! Which of these courses, my dear friend, is most in accordance with an enlightened rectitude, with manliness, honour, and common sense?' The vicar took his arm ere he replied, and pressed it affectionately. ' I give you my word that I believe you speak in all sincerity — that you have your- self no serious doubt on the matter. I wish, with all my heart, that I or any competent judge could agree with you.' ' And you do not ? ' Honour or Dishonour. 1 4 1 1 Alas ! it is not a matter of opinion ; but one of those patent cases in which all ex- perienced men of honour must agree. All that you have just called logic, is nothing but specious, clever, plausible sophistry, believe me. Oh, you may rely that did I see but a loophole for doubt, I would advise a consultation, like a good physician in a case of any uncertainty.' Matthew was about to let his temper burst forth, but cui bono came timely to his aid ; and, with an effort, he said very calmly, — 1 Explain.' ' Nothing easier. It is an immutable law that no outward rule of honour can be broken on the plea of inward motives. To infringe this would be to subvert all honour. Once allow you to act as you propose, and there is an end to all truth and faith in the most solemn engagement.' The evident truth of this remark chilled 142 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. poor overheated Matthew to the bones. His friend went on, — ' Every contemptible male jilt, every trifler with the fresh and sacred affections of the purest girl, might take shelter under your pleas and go unscathed.' ' I — I — own that had not struck me,' groaned the young man. ' You talk of hypocrisy ; but have you never heard that there are cases where it is not merely allowable, but where we have no choice ; cases where, if we are not hypo- crites, we are heartless villains ? ' * You mean ? ' ' Take a parent who has an overweening partiality for one child, almost an antipathy for the other ; is he not bound nobly to play the hypocrite. A month, a year after marriage, one of a late happy pair, knowing not why or wherefore, is seized by an un- reasonable but very real loathing for the other. Oh, we meet such instances oftener Honotir or Dishonour. 143 than you dream of. Would a candid sin- cerity be a very noble quality under such conditions as these ? Take again the fre- quent cases where we must act a part in order to keep a secret we are pledged not to betray. No, the one, the only possible guide, must be to take somewhat the same view of a betrothal as of marriage itself, both are too often entered upon without due deliberation ; but as that is no excuse for divorce, after the ceremony of marriage, so neither does it offer a valid plea for escape before.' 1 Do you mean to tell me that there is no exception ? ' 1 None, none to an engagement honour- ably formed. None where, as I said before, inward causes can alone be urged in favour of escape. If some mature man-hunter, widow or spinster, a garrison hack, say, as they are called, were to take advantage of being cooped up in a country house with 144 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. some splendid boy-match, and entrap him into an engagement, who could blame the, friends of the poor youth for advising him to plead their authority to free himself from her meshes ? ' ' Yes, as you say, that is not an excep- tion, because not really a case in point. I will tell Claire Bailey all, and throw myself upon her mercy.' A pause — a long pause. ' Well, Sivewright, why don't you speak ? ' ' I have knocked down so much, that I detest to go on. It ought to be needless too. I was waiting for you to perform the rest of the operation of unblinding.' ' Oh, a truce to imagery ; why can I not give Claire her choice ? Old proverbs are safe things volenti non fit injuria' i Because, my friend, it is no choice at all. Must I point out to you that if it is un- warrantable to break off the marriage, any step, no matter what, that must inevitably Honour or Dishonour, 145 have the same result, must be equally un- worthy.' ' But surely she might — ' 1 No, she might not. What girl with one spark of pride, of dignity, could hesitate an instant ? Then how far less poor Claire Bailey, who is the soul of delicacy and honour ? ' and the vicar's voice changed in the darkness which concealed the tears that rushed to his eyes. 1 Matthew, Matthew,' he went on, ' it is always doubtful how a man will act under his first great temptation. He is as the soldier for the first time under fire. Do not interrupt me — the most that can be said in any of our favours is that we have hitherto been worthy men. I hope for the best; but hear me. Know, at least, what you are about to do, if you trample con- science under the feet of passion. If you insult your betrothed bride by a mock option, there is in my mind no shade of uncertainty VOL. III. k 146 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. as to the result. I would to God there were. Know, that as sure as you show her your heart as it now is, from that hour she will droop and die, and you will be her murderer.' Matthew's face worked as that of one in a fit, and he tried in vain to speak. * If I said one word short of that, I should be a mock counsellor and a mock friend. Good-night.' And Matthew was alone. The vicar had that rare but terrible quality, it was impossible not to be impressed by what he said. CHAPTER IX. A BREAKFAST TALK. REAKFAST at Fernwood Vicarage was a meal that was thoroughly understood. There was no such thing as dishes getting cold while the tea or coffee brewed. Mr Sivewright's estab- lishment was a small one, it is true ; but partly perhaps for that very reason he was better waited on than he would have been had* it been mounted on a grander scale. All his little dishes came up in single file hot and savoury, not even a muffin was allowed to stand a moment on the table to get leathery. Perfection in everything was the high standard to which the vicar 148 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. aspired, and he believed it to be as essential in cookery as in code. The morning following his long talk with Matthew he came downstairs about nine, and found according, to orders, places laid for two ; but the expected guest had not yet arrived. The vicar rubbed his hands, stirred up the fire, looked round the room pleasantly ; it was evident he bore pleasurably in mind the conversation which had been held with Matthew on the previous evening, and which sleep, as far as the vicar was con- cerned, had not rendered less seemingly satisfactory. That Matthew would not marry Lady Valentina he believed ; but that she would bestow her smiles and her queenly person on himself, he was by no means so certain ; however, sufficient had happened since yesterday to render it quite antagonistic to his views that an alliance should take place between Lord Beaure- paire and Mrs Tremayne. To have Violet A Breakfast Talk. 149 for a step-mamma-in-law was a ridiculous anomaly, at which the Rev. Lawrence could not even smile ; and yet he had pledged his word to preserve the duchess's name from being uttered by the tongue of scan- dal, and to get her letters returned to her. Truly Mr Sivewright, as he stands at the window, thinking while he is waiting, is becoming as ingenious a plotter as the pretty Violet herself. The click of the gate latch as it falls back into its place makes him look up. Mr John Varley, in the same Sunday suit he had worn when he first went to see Mrs Tremayne in London, is coming up the gravel walk. The vicar signs to him to open the door for himself, and to come straight in ; then he rings for breakfast. Well is it he does not hear Mrs Green's remarks in the kitchen about the kind of loose folk the master has taken up with, and how she never knew before that ' breakfasting with 150 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. vagrants and ne'er-do-weels was any guar- antee as they'd get into heaven.' She did not lessen her culinary efforts, however, in consequence, and for her garrulity Mr Sive- wright did not care one jot. 1 How are you, Varley ? It is better talk- ing here than under the trees in the moon- light. Green will give us some breakfast directly,' and the Rev. Lawrence shook his humble friend very warmly by the hand, and pushed a chair towards him. 1 Thank your reverence ; you are very kind,' and Varley looked so bashful and unlike what he had been on the previous evening that Mr Sivewright felt more con- vinced than ever that he must then have been drinking ; even he failed to ascribe any eccentricities there were about this man to the power of the passion that was working within him. Yes, Varley was viewing life from a different point this morning. He had got A Breakfast Talk, 151 up cheerier ; the vicar was inclined to prove his friend, he thought, and Varley was the sort of man who appreciated friend- ship, especially when bestowed by one so incomparably his superior ; besides, the genial aspect of the room influenced him. When does not geniality of surroundings and manner produce a salutary effect ? They fell to with their knives and forks, chatting of mere desultory subjects the while ; it was Mr Sivewright's object to put Cheap Jack quite at his ease. 1 Is this the way swells breakfast every day ? ' asked the latter, when fish and broil having been despatched, a steaming savoury omelette made its appearance. ' 'Cause if it is, I ain't astonished as she wishes to bide where she is.' The vicar smiled ; he was aware, that Violet frequently developed strong gipsy tendencies. As yet he could not quite picture her sitting complacently under a 152 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. hedge eating bread and bacon with a clasp- knife, which he made no doubt was Jack Varley's usual prandial habit. He did not wish, however, to irritate by any seeming amusement, so he said very gravely, — * Have you asked Mrs Tremayne to leave her sphere of life and join you in yours ? ' * Her sphere of life ! that's it, your reverence. What's her sphere of life ? How is she a bit better than me ? She's out of her sphere now, she is, and. how she has ever got hoisted I can't think.' 1 I always thought that her father was a gentleman. I even think that you yourself told me so.' ' I never knew what he was then — I do now. He was a black leg sharper ! ' ' Exactly. I do not dispute his want of principle. But what was his birth ? ' ' Well, it's queer, your reverence, ain't it ; but since I last talked to you I've fallen in with my old master in the tra- A Breakfast Talk. veiling menagerie, and he's told me a power of things. It seems that he and Pearls father was pals once.' ' Indeed.' 1 Ay. Simmons was his name.' 1 Simmons,' repeated Mr Sivewright, con- descending to something very like a sneer. ' That's it, sir. He was apprenticed when he was a boy to a clock-maker, and, from what I hear, was a skilled workman ; could make all the bits of machinery as is used for winding up musical toys ; but he wasn't steady, couldn't bear confinement to hours, so as soon as he was out of his apprentice- ship he was off, to live by his wits one day, his hands another, and how he could a third.' 1 Dear me, dear me, I had no idea/ said the vicar, but he was delighted nevertheless. ' It is true, sir, every word of it, and, as the old master was saying, it's odd, ain't it, how a man like that manages to shove along .and elevate hisself, where a steady-going re- 154 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. spectable mechanic would be looked down on ? ' ' Don't believe it, Varley — don't believe it ; a man like the one you describe, gets no respect, he even drags his family into the mud with which he has surrounded himself.' But Varley shook his head. ' It's mud that don't stick to look dirty then,' he answered ; ' why, Pearl is as puffed up like as any lady in the land.' 1 Hers is a very doubtful position— very doubtful, I should say,' said the vicar mean- ingly. 'What, with that swell duchess for a friend ? ' asked Jack, ' though that's a rummy story too, that is.' Mr Sivewright pulled his chair a little nearer the table, and felt thankful that he had had the wisdom to ask Jack Varley to breakfast. ' You know who the duchess was, of course ; you know her father was cotton, and had had a sight of money ? ' A Breakfast Talk. 155 1 Yes, yes, yes,' repeated the vicar, to whom the allusion was just a little distasteful. 1 Well, it's my experience of life, your reverence — you'll excuse me for saying so, that if a man means to grow blooming rich, he mustn't mind an occasional hand's-turn with the dirt. Old Benson was of this opinion, and Mr Simmons, that is Pearl's father, was one of his agents, employed by him to keep his weather eye open, and do any stroke of business for which Benson was too much of a gentleman. Under these circumstances the two girls naturally were " pals," and I must say it speaks well for the duchess her being civil to Pearl, now that she is such a big grand lady/ ' The Duchess of Montarlis is goodness and kindness itself,' said Mr Sivewright rather pompously. He felt truly relieved that Mr Varley, who seemed to have been collecting infor- mation lately, knew nothing of that other 1 56 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. story which formed so important a link between the two women. ' Then there is that lord as is always after Pearl. I don't like him one bit, blessed if I do.' ' How do you mean you do not like him ? ' and Mr Sivewright became much more stiff and upright than he usually was with inferiors. If Varley had any disagreeable revelations to make about the Beaurepaires, he was prepared to resent them to the fullest ; but Varley had no such intention, he only asked very simply, — 1 Is he going to marry Pearl, your rever- ence ? ' 1 No, no, certainly not ; such a thing were quite impossible.' ' Then it is a pity he philanders about with her as he does,' he said sternly, veering round at once, and taking up the cudgels for Violet Tremayne, as soon as he was informed that his lordship had no intentions ; A Breakfast Talk. 157 in his heart, however, only too thankful for the knowledge. 'It is, I imagine, her own affair if she chooses to encourage a little flirtation,' said the vicar, still on the defensive. 1 For years I thought as I wasn't sent into the world for any other purpose but to look after that girl.' ' Still she seems thoroughly capable of taking care of herself.' John Varley groaned — did he not know it full well. Mr Sivewright pushed a silver stand containing ajar of honey towards Jack, and throwing himself back in his chair, crossed his legs with an air of physical and mental repletion which was quite cheering to behold. Varley's next question, however, after having for a minute been so engrossed in thought as to ignore the offer of the honey, made the vicar rouse himself. 1 5 8 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 What would you advise me to do, your reverence ? ' 1 How so — what do you mean ? In what way, what should you do ? ' ' Well, I can't abear it much longer. She don't treat me even with the same respect as she would a dog. She ups with me to- day, and downs with me to-morrow, till I'm a-nigh off my head through her perversity; so I thought I'd just make so bold as to ask your reverence what you would do if you were in my place ? ' ' I should go away if it were not pleasant to remain,' said the vicar drily. 4 That's common sense advice with a vengeance,' cried Jack ; ' but what if you had not the courage ?' 'My good friend, such a word as "coward " should be expunged from every English- man's vocabulary.' ' But what good will going away do ? ' pleaded Jack. ' I sha'n't be any better off as A Breakfast Talk. 159 I see. It is my belief she'll marry that lord — she means to, whatever you say to the contrary — and I shall be left out in the cold, whether I go or stay.' 'I would almost pledge my word that Mrs Tremayne will not marry Lord Beaure- paire — it is a most improbable thing. Look here, Varley, you take my advice, start on one of your tours for — say a fortnight ; at the end of that time come and breakfast with me again. I think you will find that during that period a good many things have happened, and that you yourself will be in a fitter frame of mind for overcoming the difficulties of life. Do you agree ? ' 'Well, your reverence, I came here fully prepared to ask your advice, and to abide by it whatever it was, and so, though it is a bit disagreeable like to go away, still, if you think it's the best thing, well I'll do it, and leave my interests in your reverence's keeping.' 1 60 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 Spoken like a man, Varley. Rest as- sured I'll watch over them scrupulously.' The vicar's interests and Mr Varley's, in this instance, were identical ; but even had they not been so, Mr Sivewright was far too conscientious to break faith with his humble companion, having promised to serve him. It was agreed that on that day week Varley should be at a certain town, about fifty miles from Fernwood, in order that the vicar might address a letter there if needful. It was the vicar's intention during the next few days to strike a blow — enact a coup d'etat on his own responsibility, in fact— and he scarcely knew as yet whether the presence or absence of Varley would be the most con- ducive to success. He had learnt a good deal about Violet and her affairs through this conversation ; but Mr Sivewright was not the sort of man who would condescend to use a spy ; hence he did not care to have A Breakfast Talk. 161 Mr Varley prowling about on the detective ; added to which, he bond fide believed that it was better for the man himself that he should go away for a time. Thus, after a little more talk, they parted. Cheap Jack took the road to Hurton, walk- ing very slowly, however, and with his head hanging down, his eyes reading the ground, looking very much like a naughty boy sent unwillingly to school. Mr Sivewright, meantime, walked up and down his study, to which he had betaken himself on Varley's departure, and smiled with a certain amount of complacent satis- faction. The game was in his own hand, if he only managed to play the cards aright. A stormy interview with Violet was impera- tive — of that he felt certain, and perhaps he looked forward to it with some degree of satisfaction, though it was scarcely the* coup de main on which he relied. So during the few hours which had elapsed since his con- VOL. III. l 1 62 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. versation with Matthew, the Rev. Lawrence had determined to offer himself, his fortune, and his well-appointed vicarage to the Lady Valentina. The thought of what the duchess and Mrs Desborough would say when they knew it amused him not a little, for Mr Sivewright, notwithstanding his erudition and his dignity, was quite vain enough to feel a pleasure in rousing the jealousy of women. Only suppose that Lady Valentina should refuse him ? But then, how would they know aught of what had passed ; for surely so high-born a dame would scarcely conde- scend to the vulgar vice of tattling ? He would not broach the subject too hurriedly ; however, it were as well perhaps to recon- noitre the ground a little more carefully before committing himself. So the morning being fine, he thought he would take a stroll through the Vantage grounds in the hope of meeting some of the home party. A few dexterously put leading A Breakfast Talk. 163 questions would, he imagined, give him an idea if there had been any change in the respective positions of Valentina or Violet since yesterday. He felt inclined for a walk ; perhaps by a circuitous route he might at last find himself at Montarlis about luncheon time. Drinking in the sunshine, and dream- ing pleasantly as he drank, he wandered through the little village, now acknowledging the children's curtsies by a friendly nod ; now saying a few kindly words to different parishioners as he passed them. To each and all the passing thought came, that the vicar was looking cheery and content this morning. An hour later, when he returned that way, he walked hurriedly on, without bestowing one token of recognition ; the smiles on his face had turned to frowns, the happy dreamy look to one of dark moody preoccupation. CHAPTER X. FROM GLOOM TO LIGHT. UT little sleep visited Matthew's pillow after his conversation with. Mr Sivewright. In a moment of impetuosity he had decided to make as it were one last appeal against Fate, by placing the direction of his affairs in the Rev. Law- rence's hands ; the vicar, however, had de- cided with Matthew's own conscience-, and — for Claire ; and Matthew was resolved to abide by that decision. He knew full well that the weak point of his character was vacillation, and he had frequently prayed — oh, so strenuously — against it; but prayers without a determined assistance of works he knew were of little avail. This was From Gloom to Light. 165 Matthew's first great temptation, as Mr Sivewright had said ; ' it should be over- come/ he resolved, ' he would conquer and be strong. Peace surely would come at last as a sweet reward.' So all night he wrestled with the demons who were struggling for ascend- ancy, but from among whom Claire's pure face seemed to be ever looking plaintively and upbraidingly forth as Mr Sivewright's parting words, ' she will droop and die, and you will be her murderer/ rang perpetually in his ears. He had been much inclined of late to accuse her of coldness and in- difference, but the vicar's words had roused him into some consideration for her feel- ings ; from consideration there was but one step in Matthew's excitable temperament to frenzy, and by the time the grey morning light crept into his room, he had decided that Mr Sivewright had received some pri- vate information of Claire's state, and that 1 66 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. he knew she was in extremis on his account. Verily, it was a desperately real picture the vicar had been unwittingly drawing ; for he had not heard aught either directly or in- directly of the Baileys since they had left England. About seven o'clock exhausted nature refused to endure a greater amount of mental pressure, and Matthew fell asleep ; nor did he wake till late in the day, thus avoiding all necessity for making an appear- ance at the family breakfast-table ; a fact which called forth no especial comment, as owing partly to his spasmodic habits, partly to feebleness of physical power, he not un- frequently indulged in sleep after the rest of the world was wakeful and busy. As still half dozing he stretched himself back into a state of consciousness, he felt like a man who had been ill for weeks, and who is gradually passing into convalescence. The great rush of passion which, during From Gloom to Light. 167 some hours, had borne down on him as though it would carry him away in its torrent, had passed. Mr Sivewright had opened the sluices and ably directed its course. The first object Matthew's eye fell on was Claire's photograph, which had hung over his mantel-piece for many months, having been given to him in the days of their boy and girl friendship, long before any engagement had existed between them. 1 My sweet little Claire, and to think how nearly I was untrue to you,' he murmured ; ' this very morning I will write you a long letter, plead my suit urgently, and place temptation beyond my reach.' Matthew was arranging for the future, without calculating on the ordeals through which he had yet to pass. Naturally, a meeting with Lady Valentina was what he dreaded above all things, though he was fully aware that, living as they were doing under the same roof, it could not in the 1 68 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ordinary course of events be long delayed ; and therefore he wisely argued that he would not attempt to avoid it, but would let matters take their course. After a hasty breakfast, eaten more from duty than because he really wanted it, Matthew was proceeding to the library, which at this hour was usually untenanted, with the intention of writing his letter, when his mother, opening the door of her boudoir, called to him to come in. Escape was impossible, and Matthew, much against his will, found himself in the midst of a little circle of morning visitors, to whom Mrs Desborough took a sort of dismal pleasure in presenting him as ' My only son.' He looked round the room hastily. ' Lady Valentina was not there, that at least was a mercy ; ' so he set himself to talk energetic platitudes, with a courage which showed plainly how thoroughly in earnest he was in his endeavour to be From Gloom to Light. 169 honest and true. The party consisted of a mother and two daughters, rather pretty girls, but lately emancipated from the school- room. Matthew had never seen them be- fore, nor from his mother's introduction did he make out their name. He imagined them to be new arrivals in the neighbour- hood, which indeed they were ; and Mrs Desborough, from her exceeding civility, evidently intended to foster them. They were in fact the last pets, and although quite new acquaintances, the only people except her old friends that she had seen since poor George's death. Matthew set himself to talk to the eldest girl, who, although she was barely eighteen, was not in the least shy, but carried on the conversation so very glibly, that he soon felt he had nothing to do but appear to listen, putting in an occasional yes or no, not, however, quite in the right places, since his thoughts were wandering far away 1 70 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, from the mere county gossip and pretty- nothings with which this young lady was striving to amuse him ; at last she said, — ' You must know the Baileys, do you not, Mr Desborough ? My cousin Frank Leverton writes that he has met them abroad. They are at Mentone, I believe.' ' I think — I believe so — yes/ and Mat- thew became suddenly interested. 1 He gives a terrible account of Miss Bailey ; says he never saw any one looking so changed and ill in all his life. He went to Mentone to — ' ' Good God ! ' The startling exclamation and the blanched appearance, the sort of horror depicted on Matthew's face, arrested the young lady in the middle of her sentence, and she murmured in a frightened voice, — ' What have I said ? Oh, I am so sorry — ' Her words recalled Matthew somewhat to his senses. Front Gloom to Light. 171 1 Claire Bailey and I were brought up together as children,' he explained, speaking very fast. ' I had no idea she was ill. Tell me quickly what you know about her/ There was a sort of authority mixed up with the rapidity with which Matthew delivered this sentence, which, as it were, commanded obedience. The girl answered, although in a very frightened voice, as though she feared an- other outbreak on the part of this somewhat eccentric Mr Desborough. 1 Frank only says that she looks very ill, and has quite lost all her bright gay manner ; that Lady Laura is very anxious about her, and that — ' But Matthew did not stop for any more. A sort of attempt at ' Thank you ' fell from his white lips, and he was gone. He felt he could not have endured to stay in that room for another moment, whatever remarks his sudden flight might occasion ; so, setting 172 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. courtesy and conventionality on one side, he dashed out into the open air, where his over-wrought feelings could at least have scope to rage at will. ' She will droop and die, and you will be her murderer,' — he repeated the words over and over, as he sped across the park without either knowing or caring whither he went. ' Could he ever forgive himself ; should he ever dare to lift up his head again if anything happened to Claire ? Sweet, darling little Claire, who had loved him with all his many faults so truly and so constantly ? ' Ay, Mr Sivewright's words had taken root ; for had they never been spoken, it in all probability would not have occurred to Matthew to imagine that his faithlessness had aught to do with Claire's illness. Now this news coming after his conver- sation with the vicar, and after the night of feverish agitation he had passed, worked him to such a pitch of frenzy, that any one From Gloom to Light. 173 who had seen him tearing through the Vantage grounds would have imagined he was an escaped maniac. The violent exer- cise, however, helped to work off some of the excitement, and he had become to some slight degree more like a reasonable being by the time — having taken at least a five miles' walk — that he found himself in the little wood near the house. Lady Valentina was sitting under a tree reading. She looked up when she saw Matthew, and an exclamation of, — • Good gracious, Mr Desborough, how ill you look ! What has happened ? ' fell from her lips. 1 I have had very bad news/ he an- swered, more quietly than might have been expected. ' I am going to start for Mentone to-night/ Matthew had fully made up his mind now how he meant to act. It was, therefore; useless to falsify his position with Lady Valentina any farther. 1 74 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Going to start for Mentone ? Who is at Mentone ? ' ' Claire, my darling little Claire, whose murderer I shall be if I dally here any longer.' Lady Valentina turned white, and a sharp low cry as if of pain escaped her involun- tarily ; but he looked at her very fixedly, almost brutally. In his extravagant remorse he could not help associating her as a partner in the great wrong that had been inflicted on Claire. He quite forgot that his behaviour to Valentina herself merited some reprobation ; he quite forgot that but yester- day he had professed to love her. The only idea in his mind was that since murder must be perpetrated to effect their union, any communication he might hold with Valen- tina was a deadly sin, and thus it was almost with a feeling of loathing that he stood looking at her, with a haggard white face and wide open staring eyes. From Gloom to Light. 175 1 My God ! Matthew, are you — ' and the calm, proud woman gave utterance to an unusual mode of speech in her excitement. But he did not let her finish her sentence. I I am in my senses, Lady Valentina, fully in my senses, and very resolute. I have bowed to your sovereignty quite long enough, and neglected my duty. This very night I start to fulfil it. Do not speak to me or attempt to hinder me, for it is use- less.' I I don't know what you mean by hinder- ing you, Mr Desborough. I think I have always urged a strict regard for duty,' and she looked as coldly regal as if she were incapable of passion. Matthew's words had roused her pride, and it stood her in good stead now. 1 Perhaps you have forgotten,' she added, ' that I hear of this duty to which you allude for the first time to-day.' 'And whose fault was that ? What but 1 76 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. the witching power of your beauty, the charm of your conversation, the fascination of — ' 1 Mr Desborough!' And Lady Valentina turned from him, and proceeded to walk slowly towards the house. He stopped her, however, and seiz- ing her by the hand with a force she could not withstand, he began to cover it with kisses. ' Do not part from me in anger. I have been very, very miserable ; but what can I do ? To act otherwise would be murder. My honour demands it — Claire must be saved.' She wrenched her hand from him with some difficulty, and said coldly, — ' Enough, Mr Desborough. No explana- tion is necessary ; be brave and true.' 1 And you will still be my friend ? ' he pleaded. There was a moment of silence, and then she said very firmly, — From Gloom to Light. 177 ' Yes. Why not ? ' Once more he caught her hand and raised it, this time almost deferentially, to his lips — another second and Lady Valentina had left him, and he did not again attempt to stop her. 1 Then the story of his engagement to Claire Bailey was true. I wonder why every one combined to deceive me ? ' she murmured softly to herself, too dazed as yet to compre- hend it fully. She did not see Matthew again before he started for Mentone. Skirting the little wood on his return to the vicarage, Mr Sivewright had witnessed a portion of this scene, although he was too far off to hear a single word. Matthew, as it ap- peared to him, pleaded ardent love, to which the lady did not seem to have been wholly cold ; hence the cloud which had descended on his brow during his walk — his aspect having been so very serene when he left the house. VOL. III. M ij& Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 If Lady Valentina can care for an unre- flecting irresolute boy like that, her affection and high esteem are not worth the winning/ was his verdict, as, seating himself in his arm-chair, he conned over the events of the last twenty-four hours. And even with Mr Sivewright, philosopher though he was, human weakness showed itself for a time, and he was dissatisfied and out of temper with the rest of mankind. Even his books did not prove companionable that afternoon. As the sun's rays — for it was a bright, glad day- danced aslant his window, they irritated him. ' It was too fine a day to be spent in reading,' he said ; he wanted a companion, solitude palled. The groom from Vantage rode up to the gate with a note. ' Dine there again to- night ! ' — no that he would not, the vicar determined before he had even stretched out his hand for the missive. Not Mrs Desborough's writing, but Matthew's. From Gloom to Light. 179 ' Dear Friend, — I am off tonight for Men- tone. Claire, I hear, is ill. I trust to you to remove all obstacles with my mother. There is no farther impediment, since only Claire really loves me. — Yours sincerely, M. D.' 1 No answer,' said the vicar to the waiting servant as he glanced over these lines, and at once the sunshine became delightful, life a boon, the earth a paradise, and he stretched himself with a sense of utter satisfaction. 1 Wilful, impetuous youth,' he thought smiling. ' So he actually proposed to Lady Valentina after all ; and it is only after being absolutely refused that he is going to Men- tone to join the Baileys. All things con- sidered, Lady Valentina was scarcely likely to marry Matthew Desborough.' And laying this flattering unction to his soul, the vicar began to plan out in his mind how he should deliberately and effectually lay siege to Valentina on his own behalf. A 1 80 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. coadjutrix he must have, he decided, and that coadjutrix could scarcely be Mrs Desborough he further affirmed, with rather a conceited smile. Perhaps the duchess would do, she was a younger and less exacting woman ; she might be more inclined to help. But first he must get that business of the letters into working order. Truly, Mr Sivewright was oppressed by the weight of many small in- trigues at this juncture. CHAPTER XL WHAT IS THE PRICE f Lord Beaurepaire only had some of the impetuosity with which George Desborough was so largely endowed, he would be perfect ! ' Violet mutters to herself. She is a little cured of her infatuation for the grand old lord, that is, of her pre- dilection for himself, apart from his title and position, by the hot and cold process he had brought to bear on her, never allowing a gush of warm feeling to be otherwise than succeeded by a douche of frigidity. The Duke and Duchess of Montarlis had gone to Paris — it was a sudden whim of the 1 82 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. duke's, for which no one could exactly account — perhaps he saw signs of coming disturbances in the social atmosphere, and did not wish his wife to be in any way connected with them. It was always difficult to arrive at the duke's motives, or even to be certain that he had any ; but, though reserved in speech, he was decided and peremptory in action, and the duchess found herself compelled to accompany him to Paris, perhaps not quite unwillingly. As for Violet Tremayne, she was not invited to accompany the ducal party ; so she found herself once more in the ' toy house' in London. It, however, scarcely pre- sented its usual luxuriously finished- aspect, Violet only having been in town two days, during which time she had not felt in the mood for making her Lares and Penates become the envy of her neighbours. The Beaurepaires had left Vantage Park, but had not returned to Belgrave Square, hav- ing accepted an invitation to stay for a few What is the Price ? days at another house in the north, with the sister of the late Countess of Beaurepaire, 1 who of course, will back up Lady Valentina in her objection to her father's second mar- riage,' declared Violet, speaking half aloud to herself, as she kicked a footstool with a wasted amount of energy across the room. ' It is hateful, positively hateful, there is no getting what one wants in this world ; but some one shall pay if I am disappointed. I should not wonder if I were to bleed Julia. She might have clinched this business if she had liked ; but she is far too selfish. She has got into a good position herself, and she does not care for any one else. I'll make her feel her want of interest in me, that I will.' And Violet gave such an irritable thrust at a little bookshelf, on which she was arranging some books, while she soliloquised over her affairs, that she knocked .it out of its proper balance, and down came all the books clattering with noisy discord, a 1 84 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. volume of Consuelo striking Cheap Jack's glass balloon as it fell, and breaking the airy plaything into a thousand atoms. Violet stood for a moment as though stunned ; then a naughty word, a French one, fell from her lips. The crackling as of some broken glass made her look round. Mr Sivewright had been announced at the very moment of the clamour, but she had heard nothing except the descent of books till he accidentally trod on a fragment of the little balloon. 1 Good gracious ! ' and Violet coloured up as she noted the amused smile on his face, and felt that the situation, as far as she was concerned, was truly ridiculous. 1 Did he hear that naughty word ? ' she wondered. She would have repeated it for his especial benefit if she dared. Having recovered herself with an effort, she burst out laughing a little spitefully. 1 Those are all French novels,' she said, What is the Price ? 185 pushing one or two of the books aside with her foot. ' I suppose they knew there was a strait-laced parson in the house, so they tumbled at his feet out of respect/ 1 I am afraid my visit is inopportune ! ' answered Mr Sivewright politely. ' I am sorry.' 'Oh, I don't mind if you don't. It is a nuisance the books tumbling about ; but it would be quite as bad if you were not here. You may pick them up if you like.' This was scarcely an occupation which befitted the dignified Sivewright, who had intended to be more than usually imposing on this occasion ; but it was his turn to make himself ridiculous. He placed two of the books on a table close by, and then sug- gested that it was rather dangerous stooping among the broken glass. ' Oh, there is a little broom somewhere ; but I forgot you cannot sweep it up. " Rien n'est beau comme l'inutile," ' and she rang the bell. 1 86 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Arrange all that, Tom ! ' she said when the page entered, and then, instead of talking to Mr Sivewright, she gave orders about the replacement of her books, interspersed with occasional conversation with her dog, and some loving remarks to an exceedingly noisy canary. During all this time Mr Sivewright sat waiting silently. What could he want, she wondered ; and curiosity at last getting the better of her ill-breeding, she told Tom to be off and leave the rest of the books for arrangement at some other time. Then came the tug of war. Violet sat down in a large arm-chair and looked at her visitor, who, she felt sure, had not come there for the love of her, but for some sinister purpose. ' If you have anything disagreeable to say, please say it and have done with it ! ' she exclaimed, as Tom shut the door. Mr Sivewright did not fence or make any polite speeches about how impossible it would be for him to make disagreeable What is the Price? 187 remarks to a lady ; but he merely said very quietly, — * I have come for some letters addressed by a certain Sardinian nobleman to the Duchess of Montarlis, before her marriage.' 1 Indeed ! ' and it was difficult to say whether amusement or anger were the pre- dominant feeling with Violet when she heard this statment. ' And you are the fair Julia' s ambassador. She has tried a good many dodges in order to get back those letters, and at last has had recourse to you.' 1 I am very much surprised that one gentlewoman should seek to detain letters belonging to another against her will.' 1 So am I, Mr Sivewright ; it is not the sort of thing that would happen if there were any honesty in the world ; but there is not, and so in self-defence I am- com- pelled to keep the letters.' ' How so ? ' 1 Well, Julia is not to be relied on, though 1 88 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. I daresay you think she is. She would have dropped my acquaintance with the coolest effrontery long ago if I had not held these letters, and that would not have exactly suited my views.' ' What price do you require ? ' he asked, as coolly as if he were bargaining for fruit or flowers with a market girl. ' What price ? ' she echoed. ' Yes, everything in this world has a price. These letters, I presume, have theirs.' 1 And are you prepared to pay it ? ' Mr Sivewright's object was to make her acknowledge to him, as she had done to the duchess, that Lord Beaurepaire's hand was the price she demanded for the letters ; but the last little vestige of womanhood that was left in her rebelled against such a con- fession. She only said, in a light off-hand manner, — ' Oh, I don't ask much ; only position and wealth.' What is the Price? 1S9 ' And if you do not obtain these, you will — ' ' Send the letters to the duke, I suppose.' 1 The result of which will be your igno- minious expulsion from all good society for the future. Believe me, it is a short-sighted policy, Mrs Tremayne.' * In your wisdom can you suggest a better one ? ' and there was a sneer in her voice as she spoke. He did not affect to mark it, however, but answered cordially, — • I hope so ; especially as I observe you are acting somewhat in the dark ; there are one or two facts in connection with this business, of which I do not think you are cognisant.' 1 Will it please your reverence to enlighten me?' The vicar bowed. ' The duke, it seems, has already heard something about these letters. It is at his request that I am here to-day.' ' Indeed ! Does his grace wish me to post them to him at once ? ' i oo Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 No, Mrs Tremayne, he wishes you to put your price on them and give them to me.' 1 I don't know what the duke means by putting my price on them,' said Violet with irritation. ' He means that if you give the letters to me now, without any fuss or trouble, he is ready to make over for your use such a sum of money as will render it unneces- sary for you to be any longer a hanger-on of his wife. If you do not do so, the gates of Montarlis Castle will be none the less closed on you, and you may occasionally find yourself rather inconvenienced for money.' She looked at him for a second, and then she burst out laughing. ' You enjoy this, do you not, Mr Sive- wright ? So nice, isn't it, to be able to let out a little of my life's blood ? ' ' Pardon me, Mrs Tremayne. The suf- ferings of other people scarcely form part What is the Price ? 191 of my catalogue of enjoyments,' and the vicar looked so superbly dignified that Mrs Tremayne was compelled to forego bravado and return to business. ' I think I shall keep those letters a little longer ; I may not require the Duchess of Montarlis' patronage in the future.' ' I should advise immediate terms ; if you condescend to ask my advice in a friendly spirit,' said the vicar very softly. ' Go on. What else do you know ? There is something behind all that bland- ness.' ' Lord Beaurepaire has pledged his word to his daughter that — ' ' He will not marry me ? ' and, brave to the last, she tried to laugh out the words ; but she looked ghastly white. 1 Exactly. The position of your late father, the avocations you yourself fol- lowed in your childhood ; above all, your later well-known love for play, render a 192 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. marriage with you a mesalliance which no Beaurepaire could brook. I am exceed- ingly sorry to be the bearer of so much bad news.' 1 A very kind sentiment, I am sure, from my bitterest enemy ! ' ' Your enemy, Mrs Tremayne ! It were ill in accordance with my calling to be the enemy of any one. Those actions of mine which have seemed inimical to you have merely been prompted by an ardent love of truth.' ' Bother truth ! ' cried Violet ; ' you can leave it to unravel itself fast enough when it suits you. How about the child you put to school at Hammersmith four or five years ago, and whom you go to see peri- odically, although you leave the poor little wretch there all the holidays ? Possibly you are not more immaculate than your neighbours, notwithstanding your great sem- blance of truthfulness.' What is the Price ? 193 ' It is scarcely a breach of truth to seek to cover a fault by silence/ ' Then you do acknowledge that there is a fault?' 6 A fault, yes ; but none of mine, on my honour, though I would rather you thought me ten times guilty than that I should allow myself to reveal the names of the parents of this child. They are both dead, let their memory rest in peace.' ( Mr Lently's eldest girl has gone to the same school,' explained Mrs Tremayne ; ' the world of one's acquaintances is small, you know. Mrs Giles took the Lently child to school, and she recognised your protdgde! 1 Mrs Giles — what ! the eccentric widow at Ravensholme ? ' 'Just so. Revelations seem to be mutual to-day, Mr Sivewright.' 'Mrs Giles ! — I am perplexed to know where she can have seen that unhappy child before.' VOL. III. N 1 94 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 Oh, she has known you for years. Knew you when you and Mr Wharton were so much together in London.' ' I have not the faintest recollection of her ; however, if she by any means has learned the real story of my prot^gde, she is disloyal to have divulged it. If she does not know it, why air her ignorance ? But to business, Mrs Tremayne, as I am going to see this same child at Hammersmith before I leave London.' I You do not offer me money to hold my tongue.' He smiled as if he thought the remark were beneath contempt, and said rather posi- tively, — I I shall feel obliged if you will give me those letters quickly.' She walked to the little escritoire and took out a bundle of untidy dirty-looking letters. 1 I wonder how much they are worth ? ' she said. What is the Price ? 195 1 An annuity of two hundred pounds a- year, provided you give your word never to molest either the duke or duchess again, and never seek to enter any house in which they may be living/ She threw the bundle of letters straight at Mr Sivewright, nearly hitting him in the face ; he caught it, however, with some dexterity. The magnitude of the duke's offer had so taken her by surprise, that she accepted at once, without any farther argument. Then it suddenly struck her that the action had been a rash one. ' I suppose I- can trust you ? ' she asked. 1 We will have strict business and no ques- tions of trusting,' he answered ' Have the goodness to give me a sheet of paper.' He just glanced at the bundle of letters he held in his hand, so as to make sure they were in the writing of the noble Julia, and, having farther obtained some sealing-wax 196 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. and a light, he sealed them up with Mrs Tre- mayne's seal, and requested her to address them to the duchess, and then he put them in his pocket. 1 Now/ presenting the ducal paper promis- ing to pay her two hundred pounds a-year on certain provisos, ' have the goodness to sign this paper, and remember that any one of these conditions being broken, the duke's lawyers have orders to stop your annuity/ She signed her name with a flourish. Mr Sivewright laid fifty pounds in notes on the table, being a quarter's payment in advance, and then rose to take his departure. 1 Two hundred a-year the richer, and a whole bevy of friends and pleasant acquaint- ances the poorer,' said Violet, as she sat down on the arm of a chair and looked comically miserable. ' I was fond of Julia, too, after my fashion. I can't help it if chance has given me more wits than heart, What is the Price ? 197 can I, Mr Sivewright ? and yet I am punished for the uneven balancing of the scales — it is hard. Dear me, I shall have to let this house after all, I suppose ? ' 1 The wisest thing you can do, and go abroad, for a time at all events.' ' Gracious ! why, you are as bad as the doctors ; they always send patients abroad when they don't know what to do with them here.' And so, thanks to Violet's wonderful capacity for adapting herself to circum- stances with a joke they parted, notwith- standing the unpleasant nature of their interview. 1 Should she go abroad or should she have another throw with the dice ? ' she asked herself as soon as he was gone. She did not quite believe what he had told her about Lord Beaurepaire. If it were true the old lord had been coerced into it — of that she was quite certain, and could she igS Sackcloth and Broadcloth. not by the power of her fascinations bring him back to his slavery ? Then she decided it was useless to try. If they had managed to discover any incident of her past career in the slums, it would not be much good striv- ing to make any farther impression on that proud aristocratic old noodle. No, she had better go abroad, or she would be forfeiting her annuity by some rashness. 4 Ay, you must start afresh in life, my beauty, Vi,' she went on, addressing herself, * without a friend in the world, without a friend,' and she laid her head against the side of the chair, and closed her eyes, from which slowly trickled down her cheeks two or three un- bidden tears. She thought for a moment of George Desborough, feeling sure that he would not have been talked into giving her up so easily ; draping the dead, as one not unusu- ally does, with a magnanimous robe, and almost persuading herself into the belief that What is the Price ? 1 99 she had loved him. On that other faithful heart that waited and watched for her, she did not bestow a thought. Even as she sat there, viewing regretfully her fallen social fortunes, she would scarcely have been grateful had she been reminded of the existence of Cheap Jack Varley's unwaver- ing love. CHAPTER XII. LOVING WORDS. HE weather was hot in the south of France, that is, during the day when the sun was out ; the invalids sat about in summery garments with large sunshades, and drank in draughts of life, and with it hope ; but the warmer it grew the more pretty Claire seemed to fade, neither life nor hope came to her as welcome visitors with the sun's rays. 1 She was not ill, she assured Lady Laura, in answer to her repeated questions, only it was so hot, it made her tired.' So Lady Laura had the boxes packed up and determined to try what cooler breezes Loving Words. 201 among the lakes of North Italy would effect. Perhaps a little travelling would amuse the child. But when Claire was not looking the silent tears would fall. From her heart she feared that no change would bring back the roses to Claire's cheeks. The seat of the evil lay deeper than either doctors or mother could reach. Claire watched the preparations for departure, as she watched every other pro- gressive act in life, with a dreary ' What does it matter ? ' look in her sweet young face. Had she spoken on the subject she could have told how she would far rather have been going back to Swanover ; but she said nothing. The. future was all a weary waste, she thought, and it did not matter much upon which part of it she stood. So the maid, under Lady Laura's directions, packed the trunks, while Claire, like an unquiet spirit, wandered from room to room looking on apparently at the preparations, though in reality she heeded them but little. 202 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Wednesday morning at ten o'clock had been the time fixed for departure, but Claire had asked for one day's delay. 1 Wherefore?' was the question that puzzled Lady Laura. She had no interests at Men- tone, no friends, not even any acquaintances who charmed her. Why should she want to linger one day beyond the settled date for their departure ? Matthew had not written for some little time. To give one more day for the chance of receiving a letter was Claire's real object ; though she knew she could not trust her voice to tell her mother what she felt on the sub- ject; and Lady Laura was too discreet to ask. She merely said, very gently and kindly, — ' As you will, my Claire. Thursday, then, we will go ! ' and as far as discussion was concerned there was an end of the matter. The rooms in the hotel, after everything had been packed away ready for departure, did not present the most cheerful appear- Loving Words. 203 ance, and Lady Laura suggested that she and Claire should go for a drive, and come back to a late dinner. 4 And the post,' thought Claire, ' which cannot fail to bring a letter to-day, since I have waited for it ; though perhaps, after all, it will only tell me of his marriage with Lady Valentina,' and such a curious grey look came over her face as the vision of Matthew married to Lady Valentina rose be- fore her mind, that Lady Laura gave a little cry of pain when she saw it ; startling, the colour back into Claire's ashy cheeks as she asked, — 1 What is it, mother dear ? ' 1 Nothing, my child, nothing. I thought you looked — ' 1 Oh ! I am all right, darling mother ; let us go and have a drive.' So the carriage came round, and -some cushions were put in for Claire to lie back on ; for some weeks past the effort of sitting up in a carriage had been too great for her. 204 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. They went along the Corniche road ; but neither mother nor daughter seemed fully to appreciate the wondrous beauty of its scenery, they were both too absorbed in their own reflections. But few words were spoken ; what could they talk of since each was striv- ing so strenuously to deceive the other ? At last arrived at the little quiet hotel which was their temporary residence, Lady Laura got out of the carriage, and then turned to help Claire, from whose youth all the buoyancy seemed to have departed, as slowly, almost painfully leaning on her mother's arm, she walked across . a small hall which divided their rooms — which were on the ground floor — from the outer door. ' Any letters ? Is the English mail in ? ' she asked a gargon as she passed him. At last Lady Laura had learned the reason for wishing to pass another day at Mentone. ' None for mademoiselle, but — ' Claire heard no more, her fingers tight- Loving Words. 205 ened on her mother's arm as she walked into the sitting-room. Ah! The hot blood flushed with crimson sud- denness across her face ; then it became, if possible, more ashy white than it had been of late. She started from her mother's side, but her feeble limbs refused to do their office, and she tottered against the door ; in a moment a strone arm was round her, and the white face sank on Matthew's shoulder as con- sciousness forsook her. ' You should not have come so suddenly, you have killed her,' said Lady Laura severely. Matthew made no answer, but carrying Claire, to a sofa, laid her down, tenderly arranging the pillows under her head. Then he knelt beside her and kissed her on the fore- head and lips, whispering softly, ' My Claire, if I had but known,' as he held her there. Lady Laura came forward to see in 206 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. her maternal solicitude what could be done, but Matthew totally eclipsed her. He was everything now, as he crouched beside the sofa whispering loving words, as though he knew they would have the occult power of bringing Claire back to consciousness, and he was right. She opened her eyes and looked at him ; then she closed them again, as though afraid she was deceived in what she saw ; yet it must be true, was not the voice for which she had pined so long once more uttering words of love ? She opened them again and looked into Matthew's face ; and all the past neglect, coldness, and hesitation were forgotten on the instant, forgotten as though they had never been. But Lady Laura was by no means so for- giving. She was angry with Matthew, very angry ; the more so perhaps because he had come now, than she would have been if he had not come at all. Loving Words. 207 1 Why should he treat Claire in such a manner if he really cared for her ? ' she asked herself as she watched them there. 'If he had grown indifferent about her, or had determined to be guided by his family, she could understand his behaviour ; but to love her, and yet neglect her out of mere caprice, was past all tolerance.' ' Get up, Matthew, and come away ; you are making Claire quite ill,' she said at last, taking him by the shoulder, as though to force him into giving her once more posses- sion of her child ; her anger against him being for the moment stronger than the knowledge that his presence was Claire's salvation ; but the girl's pleading eyes were raised to her mother, as she clasped her thin hands together, and laid them on Matthew's head as he still knelt beside the couch. ' Do not send him away, mother, I am happy — so happy now.' 208 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. They were the first words Claire had spoken since Matthew came, and they told the mother at once how totally incapable she was to perfect her child's happiness, even though she sacrificed her own. She walked away at Claire's appeal, and stood looking out of the window into the garden ; in her heart almost hating Matthew for the possession he had so incontestably taken of her treasure ; and yet only a week ago she had longed for his arrival and upbraided him most severely for his absence. So changeful and full of caprices is the human mind. For a long time Lady Laura stood at the window, only murmurs reaching her of the conversation which was going on at the other end of the room. It was a strange experience, one which in all her life she had never passed through before, that of feeling entirely put by and set at naught by the being who was as a part of herself. She Loving Words. 209 had seen Claire fading from before her eyes, and she had to a certain degree grasped the reason of her gradual decline ;. yet she had never fully realised it as she did to-day, when with Matthew's unexpected appearance life and hope and interest had so thoroughly and suddenly been awakened. Matthew had seated himself on a low footstool beside Claire's couch, and, happy in their union, neither of them guessed the tumultuous feelings the picture of their happiness had called up in Lady Laura's heart. 1 And you do not love that queenly Valentina ? It is quite true — quite. You will tell me the entire truth, won't you, Matthew ? Never try to deceive either yourself or me,' Claire says, as, having risen from her recumbent position, she sits, her elbow on the cushions, her face resting on her hand, looking at Matthew. ' I have admired Lady Valentina, respected her judgment ; but I have never loved any vol. in. o 210 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. one but you ; I am sure of it — quite sure now since I see you again, my darling Claire. If I had only known how ill you were I should have — ' but she did not let him finish the sentence, for she asked, interrupting him, — ' Does Lady Valentina love you ? ' * I don't think so. She is kind to me ; but no, she does not care for me, she is very cold and proud.' ' Oh ! I am sorry, very sorry for Lady Valentina.' 1 Sorry for her. Why, Claire ? ' ' Because they say cold proud people love the deepest ; and I should be sorry, for any one who has suffered even the half that I have done of late.' * Claire ! what a base wretch you make me appear in my own eyes when you talk thus. Remember you yourself tried to break off the engagement between us.' 1 Yes, Matthew, and I would do it again if I thought it was for your good. Con- Loving Words. 2 1 1 ■& sider the matter well, dear Matthew, and if you think that Lady Valentina will ever stand between us in the future, tell me at once honestly, and let this interview be our last. I am not saying this from jealousy. I am not jealous, save of your happiness ; so that is assured, I will strive to be con- tent/ but the last part of her sentence ended in a sob, showing how difficult it had been for Claire to speak this speech, and how unreal it was, believe it though she might strive to do ; but Matthew kissed away the rising tears. ' Never, dear Claire, never; we have both passed through an ordeal of trial ; there is to be nothing but happiness for us in the future, besides, you did not run away abroad and send me to Coventry on Lady Valen- tina's account ; so don't pretend you did.' ' No, Matthew, but because it was fitting that the heir of Vantage should be free to leave off his wooings or begin them all afresh.' 2 1 2 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 And now, my pet, we are going to start from a fresh standpoint, and wander to- gether in a country where there will be no clouds. I have turned another page in my life since we last met. Henceforth I am going to take counsel of no man, but follow the unbiassed dictates of my own feelings and opinions.' ' Going to be obstinate, Matthew ? What a difficult man you will be to live with.' And there was such a twinkle of fun in Claire's eyes as she said this as had not been there this many a month, and which surely would have had the effect of delighting Lady Laura's heart had she been looking on, instead of obdurately turning her back on her daughter's happiness. But still they went on talking in low tones, and every now and then Claire's merry girlish laugh was heard, that silver laugh which for weeks past had been hushed ; and then at last she called out, — Loving Words. ' Mamma, why do you stand there all alone ? Come and look at Matthew, see how bright and well he is looking.' Lady Laura turned round but did not move. Was all her anger against Matthew to merge into a welcome and a compliment about his looks ? No, since he had come, and her child was happy once more, at least she could afford to be dignified. Per- haps he saw what was passing in her mind, for he got up and went to her. 1 Lady Laura, I have been to blame — grievously to blame. I will not excuse myself by saying I little guessed how unkindly I was behaving, though God knows it is true ; but acknowledge that I was selfishly taken up with my own affairs and vacillations. Claire has forgiven me ; will you not do so too ? ' 1 Forgive you, Matthew ? Well I hope I forgive you ; but you have caused much unnecessary pain, and I don't know now 2 1 4 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. that the past can be remedied. Claire is very ill.' • Oh, I am better, mother ; don't frighten Matthew into thinking I am going to die.' Though, the excitement of meeting Mat- thew being passed, she looked pale and haggard enough to warrant any amount of anxiety. Once more Matthew was by her side. ' If love can save her and make her strong again, love will not fail,' he said in his impetuous way. But Lady Laura shook her head ; she had ceased to believe in Matthew's outbursts. It was Claire, not himself, who made her stretch out to him the right hand of friend- ship, as she said, — 1 Darling mother, for my sake, say just one little kind word to Matthew.' Thus appealed to, Lady Laura was forced into a concession, though it was scarcely given as graciously as might have been Loving Words. 215 expected from one possessing the gentle- ness and loving kindness for which she was renowned. But Matthew had wounded her in her very heart's core ; it would take some time before the wound would heal over, and even then she must be always watchful, lest he should inflict a fresh one. She bade him welcome, however, and after a little while ceased to show her dissatisfaction quite so plainly. How could she be reservedly severe when she saw the long absent smiles wreathing once more about Claire's face, and heard her chattering gaily and discussing future plans ? Matthew of course dined with them, and Claire even tried to make a show of eating some dinner; though it was a very feeble effort. Lady Laura shook her head, as she wondered what the effect of all this undue excitement would produce. By the morrow she imagined Claire would be quite ill ; but 2 1 6 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. Lady Laura had scarcely calculated on the recuperative powers that youth possesses, when the mischief that produces languor and disease is once removed. The next morning when Lady Laura woke Claire was already up and singing like a lark in the little dressing-room she occupied next to her mother's room. It had been decided not to leave Mentone for a day or two, but that the tour among the Italian lakes should not be abandoned since it was certainly advisable on Claire's account, more •especially since her restoration to health would be the more rapid, from the fact that Matthew was to accompany them. It was useless for Lady Laura to ask him what his friends said in England, the only answer she received was, — ' That his mother might rage, his father might object, counsellors might advise ; but that he did not intend to separate himself from Claire again till every arrangement Loving Words. 2 1 7 was made for their marriage.' And so they all three started together for a pleasant tour, which had the effect of making Mat- thew's little white Snowdrop look each day more and more like a rose ; and even Lady Laura could not regret his coming to join them, since he brought with him life, where she feared death had already set its dreary mark. CHAPTER XIII. AN ULTIMATUM. HEN Mr Sivewright left Violet with the precious letters in his pocket, he took a hansom and drove straight to Hammersmith. At a seminary for young ladies, conducted on the strictest church principles, he stopped. It was somewhat of an anomaly that a protigde of Mr Sivewright should have been placed in a school where the tendencies of religious education were decidedly ritualistic ; but perhaps the circumstances of the case were such that he could not altogether exercise free will. He rang the bell, and on the door being opened by a tidy maid servant, An Ultimatum. 219 he asked for Miss Brown. He was shown into a room of true conventual type, rigid both in its furniture and appointments, which were of the scantiest. The Rev. Lawrence looked round with a half sigh, as though he, with his luxurious tastes, could not forego a feeling of pity for those who were bereft of the adornments of life. He was not, how- ever, left many minutes to his reflections. A girl about fourteen came in very slowly, stopping to curtsey as soon as she had crossed the threshold of the door. Mr Sivewright went up to her and took her kindly by the hand, as she stood there with her head bent down, not daring to look at him ; in fact it was not till he himself raised her face by putting his hand under her chin, that he got the chance of seeing it at all. ' Why, Lucy, your are not becoming less bashful, I fear. Come and sit down and tell me how you are getting on, child. 220 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. You are surely not afraid of so old a friend ? Are you happy ? ' ' Yes,' answered the girl very softly ; ' I suppose so.' ' You suppose so. Now what does that mean ? Eh, little woman ? ' ' There's a new girl here who tells me I don't know what happiness means.' Mr Sivewright had to bend his head so as to catch the words, they were uttered in so low a tone. He smiled when he did hear them. 1 Very possibly. I should like to hear " the new girl's " definition of happiness.' Lucy could have told him, no doubt ; only she was afraid she had already said too much, especially as she fancied she detected a covert sneer in his answer, and Lucy was foolishly sensitive, and perpetually on the look-out for snubs. So there was a little pause, after which Mr Sivewright said more kindly, — An Ultimatum. 221 1 I think I would rather have your views of happiness than the " new girl's." Tell me, my child, what should you like more than anything in the world ? ' She did not speak for a few seconds, then the almost whispered answer came slowly, — ' I should like to leave this place and live in the country, where there would be trees and flowers.' Mr Sivewright's brow clouded over, and for a moment he thought how utterly fallacious was all attempt to work by system. This girl had been shut up in the Hammersmith Seminary since her earliest childhood ; she had scarcely ever been beyond its walls, in order that, knowing no other life, her educa- tion finished, she might pass her days either there or in some similar establishment as teacher, and now already was she panting for ' trees and flowers.' ' What you ask it is not in my power to give you ; at all events not now. I am 222 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. afraid you must make yourself content, my poor little Lucy.' She flushed up as he spoke, and then all the colour suddenly faded. Perhaps all her hope of release from thraldom had lain with Mr Sivewright, or she would scarcely have summoned up the courage to tell him of her longings. He stayed for quite half-an-hour talking with the girl, but not making much way. Since Lucy had discovered that there was no chance of any change in the programme of her life, she had relapsed into shyness, and only answered his questions in mono- syllables, thus giving him so much trouble to carry on the conversation that he was at last forced to give it up, and to send his little protdgde in search of the school-mistress, with whom he said he wished to exchange a few words. An hour later Mr Sivewright walked slowly along Hammersmith Mall, his arms An Ultimatum. crossed behind his back, his hat well on his brow, thinking, not of the almost classic ground on which he was treading in an at- mosphere rife with the spirits of departed genius, but of the little shy girl with straw- coloured hair and a baby waxen face, who was shut up in that grand old house by the river side. Scarcely was it surprising that Mrs Giles had fabricated a gossip and a scandal out of the mystery which connected Mr Sivewright with this child's career. Per- haps he would have been as well pleased if it had remained hidden from public gaze ; but since Violet Tremayne knew it, secrecy was no longer possible ; and it was not im- probable that that morning's conference with her might have some influence on the for- tunes of the little Lucy. Altogether it had been rather an eventful day to Mr Sivewright, who. never courted excitement, and in fact but rarely met with any occurrence of sufficient importance to 224 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. arouse it. Still, for various reasons, the inci- dents of the last twenty-four hours had pro- duced an amount of stimulating interest which he but rarely felt, nor was the pro- gramme he had marked for himself at an end with this visit to Hammersmith. Having sauntered along the Mall very leisurely, he looked at his watch ; the hour it was nearly five, was so much later than he had imagined, that he hailed a cab forthwith, and desired the man to drive with all possible speed to the hotel in Jer- myn Street, where he usually located him- self when in London. Arrived there, he ordered some dinner to be prepared while he packed his portmanteau, and having eaten it he started, not on his return journey to Fernwood-cum-Grasdale, but to catch the tidal train en route for the French capital. Till those letters had been safely conveyed into ducal hands, Mr Sivewright did not con- sider that he had fulfilled his mission. An Ultimatum. 225 He travelled straight through, arriving in Paris early in the morning ; and after break- fast and a rest, he presented himself at the Hotel Bristol, where the duke and duchess had taken up their quarters, about one o'clock. The duchess was shopping, the duke was alone ; thus luck favoured the vicar, who especially wished for a private interview with his grace. 'Ah, Mr Sivewright! , The welcome was a hearty one ; to find a thoroughly diplomatic agent to perform such a friendly act as Mr Sivewright had just been executing for the duke was scarcely common, and therefore the more thoroughly appreciated ; for the duke knew by Mr Sivewright's presence in Paris that he had been successful. The first formalities of greeting over, he laid the sealed packet of letters on the table before himself. He did not hand it to the duke. 1 The terms are accepted ; there is the VOL. TIL P 226 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. signed paper. I do not think there will be any more trouble with Mrs Tremayne ; she has judged it expedient to exchange a grudgingly bestowed acquaintance for two hundred pounds a-year, paid quarterly/ and Mr Sivewright smiled cynically, and turned over the packet of letters which lay before him. I Thank you.' There was a moment's pause, during which the duke looked at the packet of letters. Then he said in rather a hesitating tone, — ' You still advise that this matter should be kept a secret from the duchess/ I I not only advise, I insist,' answered Mr Sivewright haughtily. ' When you came to the vicarage a week ago, and confided to me that some officious person had written to you on the subject of certain unpleasant letters, which Mrs Tremayne had possessed herself of, belonging to the duchess, I then told you I could take no steps in the matter unless I was assured that, by doing so, there would An Ultimatum. 227 be perfect concord between you and her grace in the future. This concord can never exist if the duchess is made aware of your interference. Such was my judgment then, the same it remains now.' There was a loftiness in Mr Sivewright's bearing as he uttered these words, which made the duke look a little nervous and feel as if he were on his trial, listening to the judge's verdict : he did not possess half the grandeur of character with which Mr Sive- wright was so conspicuously endowed. C I do not wish to depart from what we arranged — far from it. Julia shall never know from me that — but Mr Sivewright, what are you going to do with the letters ? ' ' Give them to the duchess herself.' * Good gracious ! — on what pretext ? ' ' Pastors, my dear duke, are in the habitual receipt of many confidences, and have, I hope, the power of healing many family differences. Believe me, the duchess will be as thankful 228 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. as you are, that the society of Mrs Tremayne need no longer be imposed on her as a necessity.' ' Then, Julia — the duchess has already told you— ' ' Enough to make me feel that I am acting judiciously and loyally in advising you to let the matter drop in silence, assuring you at the same time that any indiscretions of which her grace may have been guilty in the past, are of such a nature that they cannot, even in the most remote way, affect the present. It was well to magnify them in order to be quit of Mrs Tremayne. That end accomplished, let them be buried in oblivion.' The rustle of a silk dress was heard in the outside passage, the door handle was touched, Mr Sivewright put the letters in his pocket just in time. The duchess walked into the room. 1 In Paris ! — you, Mr Sivewright ! This is an unexpected pleasure.' An Ultimatum. 229 1 Having a few days of leisure, I thought they could not be better bestowed than on a visit here, especially since you and the duke are honouring it with your presence/ I When did you come ? Are you staying in this hotel ? ' I I came this morning, and I am staying at the Grand.' ' You will dine with us to-night ? Eh, Mr Sivewright ?' put in the duke. 1 I shall be delighted.' ' Oh ! that will be charming. We are going afterwards to the Francois ; the duke is going to be victimised, he hates French plays. Don't you, duke ? ' The carriage was soon after announced for a drive, but Mr Sivewright declined to accompany his friends, feeling that he re- quired an hour or two of solitude if 'he in- tended to enjoy their society and a French play in the evening. At an early dinner — that is early for 230 Sackcloth and Broadcloth, English habits, about half -past six — they all met again, and the cloud which had been on the duke's face in the morn- ing seemed to have passed away. With reflection had come the wise decision to keep the golden silence Mr Sivewright had recommended, and to trust to his friend's judgment in this matter as he had already trusted to his competency in carry- ing out the details. A hard struggle had been going on in the duke's breast for some weeks past ; he had spoken quite truly when he had said that he would never forgive even the smallest indiscretion in his wife. He had meant it fully at the time he said it, nor perhaps would Mr Sivewright have succeeded in persuading him to do so now had it not been made quite clear to him that the duchess was unaware of his knowledge of her past foolishness. His dignity would be in no way compromised, he argued — a point An Ultimatum. 231 about which, like his clerical adviser, he was rather a stickler ; and probably love for his fair wife, and a sort of fear of casting a shadow across their happiness, had more weight in the matter than he would altogether have cared to own. Hav- ing arrived at this conclusion, the duke took the trouble to be pleasant, and not for a long time had he appeared so affable and so genial as on the evening of Mr Sivewright's arrival, even stopping in the foyer long after the second act of Hernani had begun, in order to give the duchess and her confidant an opportunity of settl- ing for ever the question of those hateful letters. 1 Now I know why you came to Paris ; how good of you ! ' the duchess had said, as he presented them without speaking. ' And the price, Mr Sivewright, what is the price ? I had a few lines from Lady Valentina to-day. She says that she re- 232 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. joices to tell me her dear father has quite given up all idea of that marriage/ * Just so — yes. So I have heard.' * Then how have you become possessed of these ? ' ' By means of a little diplomacy, the details of which would scarcely interest you. I have learned many facts about Mrs Tremayne ; do not let us enter into them, dear duchess ; suffice it that you have the letters, and that Mrs Tremayne's name may in future be struck off your visiting list/ 'How? She has agreed to — ' 1 Drop the acquaintance, at my request.' ' Oh, Mr Sivewright, how delightful ! I am so glad ! You have indeed lifted an incubus off my life ! ' The vicar smiled as he thought of the fibril texture of that diaphonous fabric called ' female friendship.' ' But will you not tell me how all this has been accomplished ? ' An Ultimatum. 233 1 No, my dear duchess. I don't feel justified in exposing all Mrs Tremayne's weak points, even to you. Suffice it that you are free, Mrs Tremayne will in future live abroad, so no questions will be asked about the cessation of your intimacy.' ' Thank God ! ' And this exclamation of relief and thanksgiving ended all conver- sation on the subject, which neverthe- less for some time to come would usurp a great portion of her grace's thoughts. When the duke returned to his place at her side, he read at once on her face that the future absence of Violet Tremayne from her daily companionship was by no means regretted, and as she moved her ample satin skirts to make room for him to draw his chair nearer to her, there was an ex- pression half of tenderness, half of confi- dence in her eyes which made him inwardly rejoice that he had listened to the vicar's advice, and not allowed the jealous ten- 234 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. dencies of his nature to get the upper hand. 1 How can I ever repay you for all your kindness ? ' the duchess whispered, as she leant on the Rev. Lawrences arm on their way out of the theatre, the duke being a few steps in advance. 1 You may be called on to render me your assistance sooner than you expect/ he answered in the same tone. ' You ! How can I help you ? Believe, whatever it is, I will do it thoroughly.' 4 There are episodes in most men's lives when a woman's help is invaluable. Per. haps I am on the eve of passing into one of them.' ' What do you mean ? ' Mr Sivewright smiled. ' I mean that at fifty I am beginning to think that man was not intended to live alone.' The duchess gave a little start as she An Ultimatum. 235 looked at him in some surprise. She had probably deemed that this man was to be for aye her devoted slave, the right to his attentions being disputed only with Mrs Desborough. She recovered herself, how- ever, at once before he had time to note the momentary astonishment. 1 You are going to marry — ' 1 Stay, my dear duchess, I have by no means arrived at that point. Many delicate negotiations on your part will be necessary before my hopes are crowned.' 'Negotiations on my part! Why, who is to be the future — ' 'Lady Valentina Beaurepaire.' ' Charming — delightful ! How many pleas- ant surprises you have afforded me, Mr Sivewright ! ' And every idea of art arriere pensde seemed to have left the duchess's mind. ' Then you will help me to win her ? ' 236 Sackcloth and Broadcloth . ' With all my heart. Come and talk it over to-morrow morning/ They shook hands warmly, and parted at the carriage door. 1 Only fancy, Montarlis, Mr Sivewright wants to marry Valentina/ exclaimed the duchess as they drove off. ' Since Matthew Desborough has determined to be faithful to that pink-faced little Miss Bailey, about which I fancy Valentina is just a trifle hipped, nothing could turn out more satis- factory. What do you think ? ' ' I agree with you, my love ; Sivewright is a man we must all respect. I suppose Beaurepaire will think it a good enough marriage for Lady Valentina.' 1 Of course he will— he must. Why, Mr Sivewright comes of a very good family, and is altogether a most superior being. I know some one, however, who will not be pleased — Mrs Desborough. It will be rather amus- ing to note her little manoeuvres to appear An Ultimatum. 237 as if she were not disappointed. Dear me, how funnily things do unravel themselves in this world.' And the duchess gave a little sigh — it was one of relief. They reached the Hotel Bristol at this juncture ; when they got into the full light of the hall, she remarked that the duke looked unusually beaming and satisfied. The query crossed her mind for a moment, could he have been jealous of Mr Sive- wright ? She little guessed how much he thanked the vicar as he looked forward to a cloudless future. CHAPTER XIV. SOFT PINK LAMPS. HE first spring weather is glad- dening the hearts of Londoners. Open carriages are dashing hither and thither with ladies in bright toilettes of the latest Parisian fashion. Bond Street and Piccadilly are in a state of blo.ck, only kept from being positively dangerous by the efficiency of a brigade of police. Noise and bustle with business and pleasure fighting for predominance prevail everywhere, the Metropolis being what is technically called crammed ; every house has its inmates, no dreary-looking shutters — for they are dreary, however artistically painted — meet the eye, Soft Pink Lamps. 239 and scarcely a bill announcing that apart- ments are to be let is to be seen in any of the fashionable quarters. It is acknow- ledged, even by tradespeople, to be a good season, and verily there is no dearth of rout and reception, concert and crowd. Even Lady Valentina has awakened from her usual indolent indifference, just one degree of flurry seeming to reflect itself on her from the tempestuous rushing throng with which she moves. There is more colour in her cheeks than there used to be, more lustre in her eyes ; yet Matthew is a declared defaulter in homage. Since he had rushed off abroad as suddenly as he had arrived at Vantage, Lady Valentina had scarcely heard from him, though she had received a long letter from Mrs Desborough, giving a very diffuse account of how obstinately he abided by his engagement to Claire Bailey, and how she would rather see him lying in his grave 240 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. beside poor George than know him to be married to that pink-faced chit. Valentina had thrown the letter from her with an outburst of feeling to which she did not usually give way, and sat for a while her head resting on her arms, then all the proud blood of her ancestors mounted in her veins, and a quarter of an hour later, when she lifted her head, her cheeks were red, her eyes were flashing ; in a fortnight's time neither flash nor colour had faded, and there was a feverishness about her mien which made her father just a little anxious, though she assured him there was nothing amiss with her, she was enjoying the season and the balls excessively. ' She had no cause for annoyance/ she said, ' now that all the fear of his marrying that dreadful little adventuress was at an end ; ' a remark which caused his lordship's high forehead momentarily to contract into a frown, for he still had a pleasing recollec- Soft Pink Lamps. 241 tion of Violet Tremayne, and did not mind acknowledging that his feelings had been made subject to his judgment. This was a state of affairs which could scarcely have been brought about, save with a proud man ; nor would he in this instance have paid attention to any of Valentina's pathetic appeals, or even the duke's or Mr Sive- wright's statements, had not he himself seen Violets stolen interview with Cheap Jack Varley. Potently then, father and daughter having summoned all their pride, they were both struggling against circumstances, Valentina acknowledging nothing, the earl occasionally regretting that high breeding had not in this instance gone hand by hand with beauty and brightness and wit. Sometimes he would allude in surprised terms to Matthew's silence ; but Valentina never encouraged him to discuss the subject, and he was far too grand and large souled to bring the word VOL. III. Q 242 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ingratitude into his talk of Matthew, as many an equally honest-hearted but less noble-minded man would have done. They had given dinners, not a few, in the sump- tuous Belgrave Square dining-room, and Valentina, to the no small surprise of some of their guests, had been quite conversa- tional and affable. Having something to hide had roused her moral energy. Lord Castletowers had proposed and been refused, without the matter receiving a second consideration. This happened before the Duchess of Montarlis returned from Paris, or perhaps she would have brought a little friendly pressure to bear on Valentina in this matter. 1 Dinners palled and grew monotonous,' Valentina said, and 'dancing was a bore, especially as the weather was becoming hot/ so she persuaded his lordship to engage the famous new singer Madlle. Fiesole at an almost fabulous sum, and invite all fashion- Soft Pink Lamps. 243 able London to a concert. Of course there were numberless stars of a lesser magnitude in Fiesole's train, and the approaching con- cert was expected to be unsurpassable in talent. For ten days at least before the evening on which it was to take place it was the subject of endless conversation, and many were the heart-burnings of those individuals who aspired to belong to good society, and yet had not crossed the im- penetralia of that exclusive set to which the Beaurepaires belonged. The Duke and Duchess of Montarlis arrived in town just as the invitations were being sent out ; her grace seemed to have profited greatly by the change, and looked far less white and preoccupied than she had done when she left England, nor did she seem at all to miss her quondam shadow, Mrs Tremayne, who had suddenly gone abroad, leaving her house in an agent's hands to be let. A stereotyped account of the lights and 244 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. flowers and general splendour which pre- vailed at the Beaurepaire fete would be neither amusing nor instructive ; still less a detailed description of the toilettes of the high dames who streamed up the staircase in crowds ; suffice it to say, that when the duke and duchess arrived, they were accom- panied by Mr Sivewright, and that Lady_ Valentina received him with a very sweet smile, and looked superbly regal in her soft white satin dress, with no ornament, save some pearls, her father's last gift, twined in her glossy hair. The Rev. Lawrence just slightly squeezed the little gloved hand she held out to him, and passed on into the glittering throng, visions of a bishopric rising pleasantly in his mind, with Lady Valentina for coadjutrix in the pastoral charge. He had none of Mr Lently's scruples on the subject of matrimony, and had only remained a celibate till he was well over fifty, for the reason that never before had he found any Soft Pink Lamps. 245 woman of sufficiently high station and dig- nity to fill so important a position as that of his honoured wife and helpmeet. Mr Sivewriorht soon met a few old friends of his early London days in the throng, for he always had had the entree into some of the best houses in London ; still of later years, shut up in his country parish, notwithstand- ing the companionship of such women as the duchess and Mrs Desborough, he had grown rusty. No one knew it so well as he did himself. When standing in the vortex in Lord Beau- repaires drawing-room he felt quite outside the torrent of babble which forms the sum total of London society. He scarcely re- gretted it, however, for though he loved society, especially as the word is understood by highly bred, well-educated people, yet there was a very cynical expression on his face, as leaning against a door, he watched the people as they passed him on 246 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. their way to the concert room. Music had no especial charms for Mr Sivewright, so he had placed himself where he could hear just as much of the great Fiesole as pleased him, and yet make a retreat into the cooler rooms if he were bored ; added to which, perhaps he had other reasons for wishing to give himself free ingress and egress on that particular evening. The brilliant pro- gramme was half over, and he was still standing, statue - like, at the outer door, almost alone as it were, for the vast crowd was in front of him listening with strained ears and engrossed senses to the magical trill of Fiesole's voice. There was a deep silence save for its clear notes ; he heard the almost inaudible frou-frou of a woman's dress close to him. He turned his head suddenly — the Lady Valentina. 1 Not listening to Fiesole ? ' she said, with some little surprise in her voice. Soft Pink Lamps. 247 They were too far off for their low- toned conversation to interfere with the enjoyment of others. 1 And you ? ' 'Oh, I am hostess, therefore compelled to play the skirmisher on the look out for late comers.' ' Otherwise you would be in the very centre of that room, and perfectly happy. Eh?' ' I am very fond of music,' she answered, 1 but as for enjoying, well — no, I do not enjoy anything in a crowd.' 1 But you like London life ? ' ' Do I ? I think not. I believe I am very tired of it ; but it suits papa better than any other, he misses his club when we are in the country ? ' 1 And you, Lady Valentina, do you really mean to say that you would be content to live a country life ? ' 1 I ? Oh yes, I should like it. I take a 248 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. part in this turmoil because I belong to it, but I infinitely prefer quietude and regular hours. What many people would term monotony would be a pleasure to me.' ' Cocks and hens and sick people ; do you think you could ever tolerate them ? ' he said, half cynically. ' For poultry I have a perfect passion. If J lived in the country, to have rare specimens of poultry would be my special delight ; and as for sick people, I hope I am not so hard- hearted as to have no kindly feeling for them,' and she looked up at him with a smile. Perhaps in connection with Matthew Des- borough Lady Valentina had had these things much in contemplation of late, it was then somewhat of an ordeal through which Mr Sivewright was forcing her to pass. He never dreamed of this, but said very fervently, — ' Hard-hearted — no, never should I be such a barbarian as to deem you hard-hearted ; on the contrary, I was about to appeal mo Soft Pink Lamps, 249 ardently to your large-heartedness, by asking you to overlook some of the many faults which are glaringly apparent in my character and habitation, and to share with me my modest home. If — ' ' With you, Mr Sivewright ! ' the exclama- tion was one savouring more of surprise than satisfaction, but it did not arrest his suit. Once having launched his bark of love, he was determined not to withdraw it, because the waters into which it had drifted were scarcely rippleless. If it could not weather the first squall, there was little hope for the future, so all his knowledge of navigation must be brought to bear. 1 With me, Lady Valentina. Is my poor homage so small a tribute that it is met by scorn ? ' ' Oh no, I did not mean that at all, but you have taken me so much by surprise.' Mr Sivewright's wife ! and Lady Valen- tina mused, perhaps she was a little flattered 250 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. by the immense compliment she felt she had been paid, at all events she considered the position seriously, while he poured forth a torrent of the ablest words he had at com- mand. They might have been gibberish for anything she heeded, the one fact that he had asked her to marry him was so clearly before her, that she paid no attention to the rapid torrent into which he had learnt on a sudden to give his passion vent ; but when he had finished she smiled and looked coyly at him, as though she were half afraid of his iron- grey locks, and yet admired the man for the daring with which he had ventured to woo her. Encouraged by her aspect he took her hand — she did not attempt to withdraw it. The bark suddenly found itself moored in a bay, and the goddess of the stream forgot to agitate the waters. Once more the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright put the direct question, would she share his vicarage and his fortune ? This time to Soft Pink Lamps. 251 receive a distinct affirmative, though spoken in a whisper. If there were more of pride than of love in the answer, she was scarcely the sort of woman to make him feel it in the future. He had come to the rescue of her pride in an hour of pique, and with her life she would show her oratitude. Gratitude ! was that the warmest feeling Mr Sivewright could evoke after spending so many years in a vain search after perfection ? Yes, if even Lord Castletowers had proposed a week later, when she was quite sure of Matthew's defalcation, he might perchance have been equally well received. But knowing though Mr Sive- wright did of Matthew's love for Valentina, it yet never occurred to him that she, a regal beauty, cared for the stripling heir of Vantage, handsome though he was. " Re- gard, interest, was the warmest feeling he supposed she felt for Matthew Desborough, or he had scarcely put himself in the posi- 252 Sackcloth aiid Broadcloth. tion of being thought of Matthew's rival. It mattered little, however ; Lady Valentina had made a confidante of no one on the subject, and she was never likely herself to divulge this secret to Mr Sivewright, since she had consented to be his wife. They sauntered away from the door into an ante-room, where ' a little glooming light much like a shade ' was shed by some soft pink lamps, and sat down on a blue satin sofa, in a solitude as complete as though they had been sitting under some old elm in the Vantage woods. Mr Sive- wright's talk was of the future, Lady Valentina's heart was in the past, yet she listened with seeming interest and made becoming answers to his remarks ; he could not tell that she was comparing him in her mind, though perhaps not wholly un- favourably, with Matthew. From her ready acceptance of Mr Sive- wright it may be inferred that Lady Soft Pink Lamps. 253 Valentina had cooled somewhat in her ritualistic views of late, that with her, as with Mrs Desborough, the party to which she professed to belong, changed with the creed of the favourite preacher pro tern. The fact was that Lady Valentina was a true woman ; she had no creed, was shackled by no dogmas, she believed firmly in the Bible and Common Praver-book of the English Church, without inquiring very curiously into what they taught or what logical proof there was of their divine origin. Though she tried to be honest and con- scientious and loving, she had been so perplexed and worried on religious matters of late, that she felt it was another debt of gratitude she should owe Mr Sive- wright if he took the burden of hen con- science upon him and supported it patiently. In the little boudoir then, among the soft pink lamps, the vows of these lovers were 254 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. plighted, with no less tender romance on the one side, because the divine was ap- proaching three score ; with no less as- sumption of an interest she did not altogether feel on the part of the lady, because her rank and fortune would have enabled her to mate with the noblest in the land. To quote one of Mr Sivewright's favourite poets, — 1 Hoc non fit verbis ; ut ameris ama.' Let us hope that Lady Valentina, grow- ing in love as she journeys farther from the land of regret, may reciprocate to the fullest an honest man's affection, and never deplore the hour when she gave her word to ' love, honour, and obey ' the Rev. Lawrence Sivewright. CHAPTER XV. LAYING A GHOST. RS TREMAYNE elected to re- turn to the old pleasant hunting grounds. If she could not com- mand a position in society's world, and reign as one of fashion's queens, at least she would not be moped ; but would indulge to the fullest in her inordinate craving for excite- ment. Thanks to the duke's annuity, added to her own small income, she was in com- paratively easy circumstances, especially if she did not attempt to vie with the rich aristocracy of London. She took a little villa in the neighbourhood of Monaco, with a sort of hopeful idea that she could not fail 256 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. to double her income. Violet knew full well that high play had brought her father's and her own fortunes down to their very lowest ebb ; yet, no way sobered by the lesson, she was as keen for the venture as though she had been the merest tyro at the green table. In a few days, by a touch with her magic wand, she turned the villa which, badly furnished, had had nothing to recom- mend it but its beautiful site, into a perfect little paradise. No one knew so well as Violet Tremayne how to make a little money go a long way, or how to call forth surpris- ing effects out of what to most people would seem colourless impossible materials. Hav- ing established herself then not only com- fortably, but luxuriously, she went into the great salle at Monte Carlo in search of ac- quaintances. She had not proceeded very far before she espied young Leverton. ' Ah,' she said, holding out her hand to him, ' you are the very man. You can tell Laying a Ghost. 257 me heaps of things I want to know. Who is everybody ? I have not been in these parts for ages, and a new generation seems to have sprung up.' Mr Leverton thought for a moment of the Baileys, and how Lady Laura had asked that very question, then looked shocked at his answers ; he did not, however, apprehend any such contingency with Mrs Tremayne* and set himself to the task she had given him very freely, calling forth numberless laughs from the frisky little widow, as he proceeded with a somewhat exaggerated description of the eccentricities and habits of the people by whom they were sur- rounded. Still Monaco was by no means at its fullest — the hot weather had driven many of the habitues northwards — it was only the most ardent lovers of play who ventured to linger on in the heat. Violet herself had got such a coolly situated villa, with such lovely grounds round it, that to her the time VOL. III. R 258 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. of year mattered but little ; besides, come fair weather come foul, had she not selected this place for a permanent residence. And a rare addition to the Monte Carlo society was Violet likely to prove, especially if she fulfilled her golden expectations ; for that she would keep open house there is small doubt. 1 Are you going in to play ? ' asked Mr Leverton at last, after their talk had lasted for some time. ' No, not to-day. I am just looking about me a little. I shall begin work in earnest to-morrow.' 1 Why waste valuable time ? ' ' Oh, I believe I am just a wee bit super- stitious — to-day is Friday, you know. Don't laugh at me.' 1 Laugh at you ! are not all gamblers superstitious ? We should not be gamblers unless we believed in luck.' ' Just so, and as we are on the subject I Laying a Ghost. 259 don't mind owning that I am rather inclined to quarrel with the omens and auguries just now.' ' In what way ? ' ' Well, if the Villa Tadela, which I have taken, were not newly built, I should say it was haunted.' ' A ghost story at Monte Carlo ! Oh, Mrs ' Tremayne, it wanted but that to make up the sum total of its delights. Your luck is certainly in the ascendant since it falls to your lot to supply one.' ' I don't see anything very delightful in a ghost story. I hate weird dreary things, not that I have exactly seen a ghost, only there is something supernatural about, I do believe.' Mr Leverton looked a little incredulous ; but Violet was not daunted. 1 You shall come into my grounds to-night after sunset and see what you shall see, unless indeed you are afraid.' 2 do Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' Afraid of a ghost ! ' and he laughed. 1 The only ghost that I am afraid of is poverty/ Then it is settled that you will come over to the Villa Tadela this evening about nine, and that you will walk conscientiously for a whole half-hour about the grounds.' * On one condition, yes. That you will accompany me.' ' Now, do you suppose the ghost will appear if we are chattering there ? ' ' Oh, we will be quite silent, and walk on tiptoe if you like.' * Very well, only I shall also make my condition, that if you do not see the ghost to-night, you will go in search of it to- morrow night alone.' ' Agreed ; and now instead of going home to think about ghosts and miseries, suppose you come and dine with me in the public room. It is past six.' •Well, I don't mind if I do,' was Mrs Laying a Ghost. 261 Tremayne's answer, by which it may be in- ferred that it was her absolute intention to leave all the conventionalities de rigueur in good society utterly behind her, in the old career from which she had parted for ever. And, verily, this sort of hap-hazard life was far more in accordance with Violet Tre- mayne's proclivities than the more mono- tonous and carefully guarded one, into which she had endeavoured for a while to thrust herself. Mr Leverton ordered an appetising little repast, with an accompaniment of ' Roederer pour la grande Bretagne] as the waiter in- variably expressed it ; perhaps Mr Leverton thought it would serve to lay Violet's ghost, or at all events give them some courage to go in search of it. Truly, if noise and 'tall talk' and glare in anyway represent courage, it existed in overflowing abundance in the Monte Carlo dining-room. Dinner was a long process, the digester in 262 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. the form of much conversation with several acquaintances being taken into consideration, and it was already half-past eight when Violet and her preux chevalier stood once more in the open air and looked at the full moon, which was shedding down on them floods of pale soft light. ' Come up to the villa and have some coffee, then we will go for our little stroll.' Nothing loth, he acquiesced, and they went together, making the terraces resound with their gay chatter. Anything more un- like being impressed by a ghost panic could not well be imagined. They drank their coffee, and Mr Leverton admired the luxurious arrangement of the pretty villa, till a somewhat awful ' Now,' enunciated in orthodox ghost tones by Violet, recalled him to a recollection of the wherefore that had brought him to the Villa Tadela. 1 Shall we take a revolver or the poker ? ' Laying a Ghost. 263 he asked, still slightly exhilarated by the '' Roederer pour la grande Bretagnel of which it could scarcely be said that he had drunk sparingly. I Nonsense, Mr Leverton ; be serious for once in your life, if it be possible.' ' Serious ? You surely do not mean that this play is anything more than a joke ? ' I I am perfectly serious. Come, and not a word, remember/ He went through a pantomimic display of coercing his feelings into a courageous ap- pearance, and followed her into the garden. The moon had hidden itself behind a cloud, and a gloom had superseded the almost dazzling brightness of half-an-hour ago. There was something intensely comic in the mute procession-timed march in which they made the circuit of the grounds, Mr Leverton shrugging his shoulders when they returned to their starting point, as though to insinuate that a vast amount of nothing 264 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. had been accomplished ; but to Violet's stern 4 Again ' he responded by following her at once. This time, arrived at a long arbour which had been erected to serve as a heat refuge, she stopped, and laying her hand on Mr Leverton's arm, pressed it gently. There was something moving among the foliage. Was it a man, an animal, or a spirit ? Violet was prepared to declare for the latter ; but Mr Leverton said this time in sober earnest, — * If I only had my revolver/ She answered by a ' Hush,' and her hand still laid on his arm as though she would assure herself of the presence of at least one human being, she walked on slowly, drawing him with her ; the undefinable shadow, for it was nothing more, following them closely a little to the right. They went up to some steps leading directly into the villa, where they stopped. The ghost stopped too. Laying a Ghost. 26 At that moment the moon looked forth from behind the cloud. It was the figure of a man that was passing among the foliage. That there was no denying, though they could not see his face distinctly. Violet gave a little half-cry as though of pain and dropped her hold of Mr Leverton's arm. ' Mrs Tremayne, this adventure frightens you, pray go into the house while I punish this rash offender.' 1 No,' she said very decidedly ; 'do as I bid you. You go into the house — take the light that is in the drawing-room, carry it up to a room on the first floor, third door from the staircase on the left, and bring from there a whistle and a whip, which you will find on a chest of drawers. I will remain here till you return.' ' But are you sure you are not — ' The form in the bushes moved as though coming nearer to them. 266 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 1 Go at once. I am brave enough, only obey me.' She watched him as he ran up the steps and into the house, then she turned and sped off at her swiftest towards the ghost. ' So you thought to frighten me,' she said breathlessly when she reached him, ' this foolhardy trick might have cost you your life. Why are you here at all ; and what do you want ? ' c You/ he replied briefly, as he took off his cap, and Cheap Jack Varley's features were plainly visible in the moonlight. ' I shall follow you, Pearl, wherever you go.' ' My friend, the gentleman who was with me, has gone for a horse-whip. I sent him.' Jack Varley smiled. ' If I have borne your sneers, I can bear his thrashing.' For a second there was a little puzzled look on her face, then she said, — Laying a Ghost. 267 1 1 never knew before that it required so much bravery to endure ; but look you, Jack, this is all nonsense, we must come to terms. I will not, will never marry you — nothing shall make me ; fear of death wouldn't ; but you shall take care of me as a faithful dependant if you like. Will that do?' ' Till you think fit to give your hand to — ' 1 Hush — here comes Mr Leverton with a light, vanish while I get rid of him.' His hat pushed back off his head, a lamp in one hand a whip and whistle in the other, Mr Leverton at this juncture began slowly to descend the steps. He paused when he found Violet was not in her place ; she speedily returned to it, however. ' It is all right, Mr Leverton, you ,are too late, the ghost has disappeared down the hill. I screwed up my courage and went to have a last look at him.' ' Shall I follow him ? ' 268 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. 'On your life, no. He might lure you into some awful danger.' ' But what will you do, Mrs Tremayne ? You will never be able to live in this villa alone ? ' ' Oh yes, I think so. I have a faithful old servant coming to me very soon. He will lay all the ghosts in the principality of Monaco.' ' But to-night ? Are you not afraid of sleeping in that house ? ' ' Considering I have seen that ghost every night since I have been here, why should I be more afraid to-night ? ' Violet had with some difficulty awakened Mr Leverton's ghostly credulity, and now she did not find it easy to pacify it. At last, however, she succeeded in persuading him that ghosts never return twice in the same evening, and that therefore he might rest quite satisfied till the morrow, when, if he liked, they would go forth once more on the quest. Laying a Ghost. 269 ' But this time without finding the ghost,' • she muttered to herself, as having - shaken hands with her attendant squire, she shut and bolted the window and went upstairs to bed. After a few days a major-domo was appointed to the Tadela household, than whom no more faithful could be found. If he were at times a little officious, and over- zealous in the discharge of his duties, a fault which irritated the erratic Violet, she had, however, the good sense to re- member that, except Jack Varley, she had not a friend in the world — that he alone on the whole earth had cared sufficiently about her, to throw up his trade and follow her fortunes ; to live like a dog in fact for her sake, to be spoken kindly to or spurned according to the whim of the most capricious of mistresses. CHAPTER XVI. WEDDING WELCOMES. ^T^pHE Vicarage of Fernwood-cum- Grasdale was in gala dress. The honeymoon of the Rev. Lawrence and Lady Valentina Sivewright had been passed at the country house of one of her noble relations, and they had come home about three days ago, under triumphal arches which had been erected at intervals in that portion of the parish through which they were to pass. The idea of a vicaress had set all the people on the alert ; their zeal in welcoming the bride not perhaps being lessened by the fact of her being a 'my lady.' Wedding Welcomes. 271 The first Sunday had been got over, and Lady Valentina had shown herself demure and quietly dressed in her husband's church. She was perhaps scarcely as smiling and happy-looking as the honest, simple-minded parishioners expected, but that, they con- jectured, was no doubt owing to her exalted rank. Mrs Desborough, making use of her mourning as an excuse, had not been present at the marriage, which took place in London, and she shook hands with Lady Valentina for the first time as Mr Sivewright's wife under the porch of Fernwood Church. Al- though she had elected her for a daughter- in-law, she owed her a grudge for marrying her beloved vicar, and the meeting between the two ladies was consequently scarcely as cordial as their previous intimacy might have warranted. Mrs Desborough made very civil, well-turned speeches ; of these there was no scarcity, but from their very abund- 272 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ance, perhaps, they showed that lack of sincerity which Valentina could not help feeling, as she foresaw that near neighbours though she and Mrs Desborough would be in the future, yet her visits to Vantage Park would be very periodical and never expected without a formal invitation. Mrs Desborough had by no means taken the same view of Mr Sivewright's marriage that the duchess had done ; thus the vicar had been quite right in the conclusions he arrived at anent the two women. But then poor Mrs Desborough, had she not been severely tried ? Her nerves had been much shaken by poor George's death, and since both Mr Sivewright and Matthew had turned aside from the progressive path she had marked out for them, was it to be expected that she should do otherwise than be dis- contented ? So in ' the winter of her discon- tent ' she turned in her search for ' glorious summer ' to the Rev. Luke Lently, who Wedding Welcomes. 273 would give her the work of which there was but little to be found in Fernwood parish, and what little there was would henceforth be done by Lady Valentina, at least so she concluded. Although the Rev. Luke Lently felt the star of his importance to be somewhat in the ascendant at this juncture, naturally, he utterly and totally disapproved of his dear and reverend brothers marriage. But he so entirely approved of Matthew's, that this latter served as a counterpoise, and rendered him sufficiently amiable to enable him to go and pay his devoirs to the bride at Fern- wood, which he did on the Monday follow- ing the coming home, and to the astonish- ment of those of his own parishioners who saw them start; he was accompanied by Mrs Lently. Lady Valentina was most gracious. She had always had a kindly feeling towards Mr Lently, partly on Matthew's account and VOL. III. S 274 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. partly because she believed in and admired his zeal. Mrs Lently she saw to-day for the first time, and it were useless to say she was not a little appalled by that good lady's eccentricities of dress and manner. ' If this is a sample of vicar's wives, I have indeed married out of my sphere,' she thought ; but her breeding prevented her from showing any reflex of her thoughts to her visitors, and the talk flowed pleasantly enough for more than a quarter of an hour, when Mr Sivewright came into the room, and received with much unctuousness the good wishes which the Vicaress of Ravensholme thought fit to shower upon him. But good- hearted, well-meaning Mrs Lently was totally devoid of tact. She never could converse with any one for five consecutive minutes without saying the wrong thing, and her mental short-sightedness seemed to have in- creased, perhaps owing to nervousness, during the conversation with the Vicar of Fernwood. Wedding Welcomes. 275 1 I went to Hammersmith about a fort- night ago to the school — my Molly is there, you know — and I saw Lucy Brown. Poor child, why don't you take her away from t here, Mr Sivewright ? She's not happy/ The Rev. Lawrence's brow grew crimson, Could it be possible that Lady Valentina had heard naught of Lucy Brown ? From the way in which she turned her attention from Mr Lently to his wife, it was almost apparent. ' Why do you suppose it to be in my power to remove Lucy Brown from that school ? ' he asked rather sternly during an uncomfortable silence. 1 Because she says you are the only person who ever goes nigh her, and that she looks to you alone for everything she has in the world. Poor child ! I was quite glad to be able to take her out with Molly and be just a little kind to her.' ' I am sure Lucy Brown feels exceedingly 276 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. indebted to you,' he said very coldly, as- suming his sternest, grandest manner, even making Mrs Lently ' shake all over like,' as she afterwards explained it to Mrs Giles ; and she was by no means one of those in- dividuals who are easily influenced by tone and voice. She did not mend matters either, by saying rather flurriedly, — ' I hope I have not done anything amiss in taking the child out. Oh dear ! oh dear ! Somehow I am always doing the wrong thing when I mean to do the right one.' Mr Lently rose, he was invariably un- comfortable, ill at ease in his wife's society, and the turn affairs had taken made him more than usually so to-day. Mr Sive- wright, however, said more civilly, though still very stiffly, — 1 1 assure you, my dear Mrs Lently, the obligation is on our side. Valentina, will you not join me in thanking Mrs Lently for her kindness to zprotdgde of mine ? ' Wedding Welcomes. 277 Lady Valentina endorsed her husband's thanks with grave politeness, and the Lentlys took their leave ; Mrs Lently mentally determining that it would be a long while before she put her foot inside Fernwood Vicarage again. As a natural sequitur, the first question asked after the front door was closed on them was, — 1 Who is Lucy Brown ? ' Mr Sivewright looked at his wife, then at his filbert nails, then once more at his wife ; at last he said in very clear but low tones, — ' I cannot, may not tell you. She and the secret of her birth were confided to me on ja death-bed. An oath binds me to keep my word in looking after her and shielding her parents' name. Have you sufficient con- fidence in me to help me to keep it without asking questions ? ' Lady Valentina held out her hand to him. 278 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. ' I am your wife, ought not that to be a sufficient answer ? ' He pressed the hand she had given him to his lips. 1 Thank you, my love, thank you. Then, with your assistance, I hope we shall be able to make this poor child's life a brighter one. Till she is fifteen, I am bound to have her instructed in religion as it is understood by the ritualistic section of the church, after that age she is to choose for herself. She is turned fourteen now, and does not seem to appreciate her Hammersmith rule.' ' Poor child, we will have her here and see if we cannot shed a little brightness and warmth over her life.' Mr Sivewright told his wife of little Lucy's craving for trees and a river, and it was soon arranged that her next vacation should be passed at Fernwood. What mattered gossip- ping tongues as long as husband and wife were at unity on the subject of Lucy Brown ? Wedding Welcomes. And so two or three weeks passed on happily enough for Valentina ; perhaps more happily than any time she had yet experi- enced in life. Every day she learned to care more and more for Mr Sivewright and to appreciate the luxurious tranquillity of her new home, revelling in a monotony which suited her in every respect better than the more turbulent variations of the world she had left. About this period Mr Sivewright, return- ing one day from some parish meeting, brought the news that the Baileys had ar- rived at Swanover, and that the marriage of Matthew and Claire was to take place forthwith. Lady Valentina had scarcely got over the sort of startle which this in- telligence occasioned her, when Matthew himself, in his old impetuous way, dashed in, rushing past the servant into the drawing- room, utterly regardless that etiquette de- manded that he should be properly announced. 280 Sackcloth and Broadcloth. The meeting was a warm one on all sides ; perhaps Lady Valentina felt that she had nothing to regret, and Matthew, radiant with happiness, rejoiced that he had been true to his love and to himself, especially as he had no grounds for self-reproach as regarded Lady Valentina, in whom he hoped to secure a firm life-friend for Claire. Influenced thus by priest or parson, a change had passed over the actors in the life-drama which, during the last few months, had been playing itself out in the fair parishes of Fernwood and Ravensholme. If Mr Sivewright has seemed to accom- plish the larger share, owing to his more fully developed diplomatic powers, and to that importance which his physique and bear- ing lent even to his most trivial actions, it was perchance but another illustration of the time-honoured truism, that head gene- rally triumphs over heart in all worldly matters. Not that the latter organ was Wedding Welcomes. 281 small in our sleek divine, far from it, but that the abnormal prominence of the head was apt to dwarf it to the common eye. The common eye ! the phrase gives the key as to why Luke Lently, like many a man of far superior parts, was a failure instead of a success. Intent upon higher things, he did not sufficiently respect the common eye. In the busy scuffle of life people will not take the trouble to dive into motives, or to make allowance for exaggerations. Yet ! Yet when all is said, it perhaps comes to this, that those very persons who would seek the respectable, the aristocratic Parsons counsel and assistance under the weight of mere worldly care, might fain fly nevertheless to the dusty, unfashionable and less logical Priest, when in an hour of ex- tremity the suffering soul cries aloud for spiritual guidance and help. THE END. COLSTON AND SON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.